The Benedict Option, A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher believes that the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, has ended in defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3, 79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89).  Ultimately all faith among European and North American Christians will disappear (pp. 8, 12, 46, 202) and the only hope for them is a strategic withdrawal from business-as-usual in America (p. 2).  In search for a model of survival Dreher turns to the sixth century monk St. Benedict.  During a time of similar societal corruption Benedict withdrew to a cave for three years, eventually emerging to found 12 monasteries (pp. 14-18) and create a Rule (The Benedictine Rule) which showed the monks (and now us, by extension) how to order one’s life to be receptive to God’s grace (pp. 15, 47, 50-54).  It was this monastic system, best exemplified by Benedict, that kept the…

Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture by Mark A. Yarhouse

What the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-4) called gender identity disorder, the DSM-5 now calls gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria is not a synonym for terms such as transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, gender bending, transvestism or intersex.  Instead it refers to “experiences of gender identity in which a person’s psychological and emotional sense of themselves does not match or align with their birth sex” (p 19).  The psychological world has no concern about those with gender dysphoria unless it causes significant stress.  At that point it is considered a condition needing treatment and is capitalized as gender dysphoria (pp 19, 85-100). The author, Mark Yarhouse, has his PsyD from Wheaton College and is now a professor of psychology at Regent University and represents the Christian psychological approach that, at best, could be described as integrationalist.   Yarhouse’s views depend primarily on research and psychological analysis rather than Scripture,…

Facing Leviathan, Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers is a pastor, author, and “cultural commentator” living in Melbourne, Australia.   In the earlier days of his ministry he was well-known as a leader in the counter-cultural, organic, “hipster” style of Christianity until he began to realize that such ministries have little longevity due to lack of structure (pp 19-24).   As a matter of fact, churches of the type he was planting last on average of only three years (p 23).  Facing a personal crisis of faith along with growing chaos in his ministry, Sayers began to analyze competing models of church leadership.  As the church at large attempted to minister to the rapidly changing culture he identified two general responses: to let the culture determine the church and skepticism (pp 7-9).   Facing Leviathan offers a third approach in which the task of leadership is taken “out of the hands of the alpha male and the creative genius,…

The Invisible Hand, Do All Things Really Work For Good? by R.C. Sproul

The subject addressed in The Invisible Hand is the providence of God, a favorite theme of the author and minister, R.C. Sproul.  This particular book is an unusual mixture (for anyone but Sproul) of historical accounts, philosophy, Scripture, personal stories and references to novels.   He borrows the Westminster Confession’s definition of providence as his basis: God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (p 19). Sproul tackles the sticky issues of sovereignty vs. free will (pp 80-86), the problem of evil and pain (pp 159-168) and the point of prayer in light of God’s providence (pp 201-207),…

The Eight Great Debates of Bible Prophecy Understanding the Ongoing Controversies by Ron Rhodes

Biblical prophecy is often the subject of discussion and sometimes intense and contentious debate.  Author Ron Rhodes seeks in this volume to reveal the basis for these debates, graciously explain various views and defend his understanding, which could be defined as a Revised Dispensational position.  Rhodes’s writing style is readable, interesting and informative.   By covering such a huge subject, the book obviously cannot be comprehensive yet it provides solid exegesis and excellent answers for the debates addressed.   As a thorough overview and primer of eschatological issues, The Eight Great Debates would be hard to beat. The book is organized around the major end time positions found within the evangelical community today.  Each “debate” section is subdivided into 27 short chapters, addressing particular issues related to that subject, plus a postscript reminding the reader that Christians should unite over essential doctrines, give liberty over the non-essentials, and be charitable in all…

A Cloud of Witnesses, Calvinistic Baptists in the 18th Century by Michael Haykin

In a day in which Christian celebritism is rampant, and almost all biographies are written about the big names of the past, it is encouraging to read about a few “normal” Christians who served the Lord as faithfully as those we emulate today.  Michael Haykin has chosen in this little volume to highlight the lives of ten such individuals who ministered in England between the period of the “Great Ejection” of 1662 and the Great Awakening of the 1730s.  All of these short biographies are of people (eight men and two women) who were Calvinistic Baptists.   Each served faithfully for many years, had an impact on their time, but have been largely forgotten by church history.  An outstanding characteristic of the pastors showcased was that rather than seek personal fame they saw themselves as belonging to their church family, and it was to the local assembly (as well as the…

2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, A 21st Century look at Church History from a Pentecostal/charismatic Perspective by Eddie L. Hyatt

Eddie Hyatt writes a very fine overview of the history of Pentecostal/charismatic beliefs and practices throughout church history. As a historical account this volume is accurate and helpful to anyone desiring to understand the roots and developments as well as the present manifestations of charismatic Christianity. But the reader needs to understand that Hyatt is extremely sympathetic to the movement. As a result, his interpretation of historical events, rather than the events themselves, is often questionable and could be challenged by anyone knowledgeable of the issues. He writes in glowing praise concerning prophecies, miracles, tongues, leaders, and happenings, but leaves out the “rest of the story” including the destruction often found in their wake. Nor does the author interact with Scripture. To Hyatt virtually any Pentecostal phenomenon recorded in church history is legitimate and of the Spirit, no matter how bizarre, unbiblical or destructive. Even though the book is supposed…

Biblical Authority after Babel by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

It has become popular among many modern theologians to disparage the Reformation and blame the Reformers for the “hermeneutical havoc” that has been unleashed upon the modern world (p x, see pp 10, 18-19). Vanhoozer wants to refute this idea by reclaiming “elements for a normative Protestantism from the ruins of present day by revisiting historical Protestantism (the Reformation solas)” (p xi).  This present volume devotes a chapter to each of the solas, however VanHoozer spends little time explaining the solas in a normative sense. His concern is to show that when rightly understood the solas are both biblical and helpful. They have not thrown the church into a theological and ecclesial freefall, but rather have restored to God’s people truths that had been slowly abandoned throughout the first 14 centuries of church history: The priesthood of the believer solved the problem of unbiblical church authority and abuse; Scripture alone…

Strength in the River Lessons in Hope from Suffering Saints of the Bible by Steve Swartz

Strength in the River is written for Christians who are going through sorrow, pain, suffering and trials from any number of sources.  Especially in focus, as the first chapter indicates, are those who have endured pain for a long time and think it is never going to stop.  For such people, Steve Swartz turns their attention to the lives of 14 individuals found in Scripture who battled with similar situations.  At least one major biblical principle is drawn from the lives of each individual, the majority of which are very helpful.  For example, the life of Jeremiah focuses on the sovereignty of God, and James tells us that maturity in Christ, not solving the problem, should be our primary concern.  Jesus gives the perfect example of submissiveness; Abraham points us to the integrity of God and Ruth demonstrates how godly character can shine through even in the worst of circumstances. …

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy edited by James R.A. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett

It is commonly held that inerrancy is the doctrine upon which evangelicalism stands or falls, and is one of only two doctrinal requirements to be a member of the Evangelical Theological Society (p.9).  It is therefore vital to understand how the term is being defined today within evangelicalism.  A celebrated “battle for the Bible” took place within American Christianity between 1955-85 (what Packer called the “30 years war” (p. 32).  Harold Lindsell’s 1976 book by the same title brought the discussion to a head, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) written in 1978 (p. 15) presumably laid the issue to rest by providing a precise definition of inerrancy to which all evangelicals could ascribe.  However, such rest was apparently premature, for as this volume confirms the meaning and application of inerrancy is far from unilateral among the evangelical community.  As a matter of fact, in addition to the…

Turning to God, Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural by David F. Wells

David Wells believes the biblical understanding of salvific conversion has been distorted in modern times and needs to be reclaimed by the church.  From at least the Reformation on, evangelicals saw conversion as a supernatural act of God due to the depravity of human nature (pp. 18-20, 173-174).  However, during the Second Great Awakening (1772-1850) a shift took place in which many began to believe that through use of the right means sinners would naturally turn to God.  During that same era truth was replaced by experience as the evidence of salvation (pp. 106-108).  Evangelicals need to take a fresh look at this distortion and return to the teachings of Scripture.  This slim volume is an attempt to do this very thing. Wells defines conversion as “turning to Christ from unfaithfulness and sin to receive God’s grace” (p. 42), and “Conversion” denotes a transformation from self-dedication to dedication to God…

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for this fictional story of an aging and dying pastor who wants to leave for his young son a written legacy of his life.  John Ames is a third generation pastor in the little town of Gilead, Iowa.  He has spent virtually his whole life in Gilead, and most of it faithfully pastoring a little church.  He married young and had a child, but both his wife and little girl died shortly after the child was born.  Ames spent the rest of his life single until age 67 when a young woman attended a Pentecost service at which he was preaching.  He immediately fell for her and marriage soon followed.  A little boy brought joy to their home but at age 76 Ames is dying of heart disease and he is acutely aware that his son would never remember him, at least nothing of significance. …

The Implication of Inerrancy for the Global Church edited by Mark Tatlock

The Master’s Academy International has self-published this excellent volume on the challenges facing biblical inerrancy globally.  There are 18 Master’s Academies in 17 countries today.  Leaders of the academies each wrote a chapter discussing the unique implication of inerrancy in their respective countries and cultures.  In most situations inerrancy is outwardly affirmed, at least by the evangelical community, but, in reality, and in practice, inerrancy is denied or revised to mean something different from the official definition.  Inerrancy as defined by Paul Feinberg is, “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical or life sciences” (p. 182). In addition, R. C. Sproul draws a distinction between infallibility, in which the Scriptures are unable to make a mistake…

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

Todd Billings, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, was in his late thirties when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2012.  Rejoicing in Lament chronicles his journey through chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, suffering, and uncertainty about his future.  From the time of his diagnosis Billings immersed himself in the study of Scriptures, especially the Psalms (p. ix).  His insights from Scripture, forged in the furnace of pain and anxiety, make up the heart of this book.  Billings offers no pious platitudes but rather tackles the hard questions with clarity and boldness.  His conclusions will benefit both those suffering similar illnesses and those attempting to show compassion and understanding to people who are ill. I wondered as I read the book, however, if Billings’ strength as an author and theologian might also be his weakness. His strength lies in his deep insights and in wrestling thoroughly with…

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider

Originally published in 1977, Rich Christians, now in its sixth edition, is perhaps the most important book within the Christian genre calling for social justice. While everything from environmental issues to politics is addressed, the thrust of the book is alleviation of poverty throughout the world. Sider’s book has been studied, critiqued and embraced for decades now and needs little review from me. However I will contribute a few thoughts. While Sider admits that much progress has been made since the original publication of Rich Christians (p. 5), much more needs to be done. There are a number of balanced and helpful ideas within its pages including admissions of the benefits of market economics, although he has several problems with it (pp. 150-156), and nevertheless still calls for redistribution of wealth (pp. 232, 235). He rightly draws attention to the vast need of the poor throughout the world and multiple…

The Coming Kingdom, What Is the Kingdom and How Is Kingdom Now Theology Changing the Focus of the Church? by Andy Woods

The kingdom of God has been at the forefront of Christian thinking since the day Jesus walked the earth, and in fact is dominant in the Old Testament as well.  Get the kingdom of God right and you will comprehend the Lord’s plan for humanity.  Get it wrong and you will inevitably go astray.  With this in mind Andy Woods wants to challenge and correct the common teaching that the kingdom of God is presently on earth in the form of the church.   This view, often called “Kingdom Now Theology,” is well represented by Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, “The locus of the kingdom of God in this age is within the church, where Jesus rules as king.  As we live our lives together, we see the transforming power of the gospel and the in breaking of the future kingdom” (p. 1).  And Rick Warren calls for Christians to “establish…

Ecumenism: Another Gospel, Lausanne’s Road to Rome by E. S. Williams

For a no-holds-barred, well documented, and biblically sound critique of the Lausanne Movement, this work by E. S. Williams would be difficult to beat.  The concluding statement demonstrates well what the author intends to prove, “In light of the evidence presented in this study, we must conclude that Lausanne is a heretical movement that is perverting the gospel of truth” (p. 150).  In order to come to this conclusion Williams organizes his book around individual chapters devoted to his concerns.  He begins with the history, background, and founders (Billy Graham and J.R.W. Stott) of the original Lausanne Congress in 1974.  Their social/political action was combined with the gospel to provide the “whole gospel” (p. iv).  The social agenda has continued to be a key component of Lausanne and evangelicalism to this day (see pp. 8-11, 13-14, 40-45, 117-128, 148).  A strong charismatic element was added at Lausanne II held in…

How to Bring Your Children to Christ…& Keep Them There by Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort admits that the title of this book is not the best.  No parent is capable of bringing their children to Christ, nor to keep them there, both being a work of God.  Still he chose to stick with the title (p. 13).  Nor does the author turn Proverbs 22:6 into a promise that all children raised in a godly home will turn out great (pp. 7-8), yet he strongly implies that his children did because he and his wife “adhered to certain guidelines and principles from God’s Word” (p. 18), and because they prayed for their children’s salvation (p. 22).  Taken too far these all but guarantee a crisis of faith for parents if their children do not come to Christ, and live for Him. In fairness Comfort is rightly concerned about the danger of false conversions (pp. 14, 23-26, 81-92, 130).  False conversions happen often because children…

The Pastor as Public Theologian, Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

The Pastor as Public Theologian is the latest in several recent books calling pastors back to their role as theologians.  This one, interestingly, is written by two academians, neither of whom is a pastor: Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Owen Strachan, Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.  Perhaps for this reason they wisely asked twelve pastors to make contributions to the book, each providing a short essay on a variety of pastoral related subjects. The burden of the book is that “theology is in exile and, as a result, the knowledge of God is in ecclesial eclipse” (loc. 168).  The solution is for pastors, churches and seminaries to reclaim a lost vision for the pastor ministering as theologian (loc. 174-186).  The claim that something is lost implies that something once existed.  To that…

Slow Kingdom Coming, Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan

Kent Annan would be in the Shane Claiborne ecclesiastical camp which focuses almost entirely on social justice within a Christianized context.  The contention of Annan, and others holding his view, is that we are in the kingdom of God now, but the kingdom has not yet come in all of its fullness – the “already, but not yet” theological position.  This means, according to Annan, that we can participate with God in bringing in the kingdom (pp. 39, 98, 115).  This idea has been in existence for a long time, and eschatologically is normally called postmillennialism.   Postmillennialism has historically been expressed in two forms: evangelical, which teaches we partner with God in bringing in the kingdom through evangelism.  As the gospel is spread ultimately the majority of people will become Christians and Christ’s kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven.   The liberal form of postmillennialism teaches that…

Heart, Soul Might, Meditations on Knowing and Loving God edited by Kevin T. Bauder

Kevin Bauder, who wrote the vast majority of the essays within this volume, is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis.  Joining him are two other professors at the seminary, Jonathan Pratt and Dan Brown.  Together they write on a number of important subjects which are valuable in themselves but which also give the reader a good understanding of the theological stance and philosophy of the seminary. Solid and balanced studies of doctrines dealing with Scripture, election and foreknowledge, the person of Christ, freewill and sovereignty, salvation, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are included.  More “practical” matters such as church membership, views on Sabbath keeping, the draw and deception of sin, prayer, and the finding of God’s will are also addressed.  A few chapters were expositions of specific biblical texts.  I found the articles on John 6 (Jesus’ bread of life discourse) and an article…

Helping Johnny Listen, Taking Full Advantage of the Sermons We Hear by Thadeus L. Bergmeier

While there are numerous books written to help preachers communicate better, there are few written to aid the listener to get the most out of the sermons they hear.  Helping Johnny Listen is one of those few, and it is a good one.  Bergmeier defines preaching as the “Proclamation of the Scriptures to a group of people for the purpose of calling them to change something in their lives” (p. 12).  If this is the case it is only logical, and biblical, that the Lord will hold the listener of such sermons accountable to how they listen and what they do with what they hear (pp. 15-26).  On a practical level, both physical and spiritual preparations are essential.  Physically the hearer should come rested, learn to focus and ignore distractions, be in regular attendance and engage their minds (pp. 31-46).  Spiritually we should come hungry for the Word, worshipping God,…

“Another Jesus” Calling, How False Christs are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer by Warren B. Smith

Jesus Calling, written by Sarah Young and published in 2004, is one of the best-selling books in history, and has had a powerful influence within the church.  Young, who holds degrees from Wellesley College and Covenant Theological Seminary, has served as a missionary in Japan and Australia, and travelled in Christian circles all of her life, yet felt a need for something more than she had known in her Christian walk.  What she sought was new revelations from Jesus.  Her first extrabiblical encounter with Jesus, she claims, was while living at L’Abri following her college days.  There one night she experienced a unique presence that she interpreted as being the Lord.  She describes His presence as a warm mist which enveloped her (p. 19).  Some years later Young read God Calling, touted by some as a devotional book written by two women who claimed that they were channeling words given…

Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism by Douglas R. McLachlan

The author clearly outlines the direction and purpose of this book in the Preface, and I believe he succeeded in what he set out to accomplish. We begin our task by defining the hindrances to a balanced Fundamentalism and identifying those ingredients which have prohibited authenticity in its super-structure.  Following that we continue with a discussion of four key areas of ministry, which, if understood properly and fleshed out biblically, could enable us to take a giant step toward reclaiming an authentic variety of Fundamentalism.  These areas have to do with servant leadership, urgent evangelism, expository preaching, and Christian separation.  Finally, we close with a call for Biblical revival, the ultimate solution to the ills which face any community of believers in Jesus Christ. McLachlan warns of many pitfalls facing Fundamentalism, deals with important issues and biblical texts, such as 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (pp. 126-132), and offers much guidance and…

Him We Proclaim by Dennis E. Johnson

Reviewed by Shaun D. Lewis, Director of Civil Servant Ministries, Springfield, IL It is humbling that the sovereign God of the universe chose to redeem sinners with the precious blood of His Son. Adam’s fall was not the end of man, but the beginning thread of a rich redemptive tapestry that would reveal the Messiah. Christ must be proclaimed from the Gospels and Epistles, but the Law and Prophets look forward to His coming and proclaim Him as well (Lk 24:27). What does it mean to preach Christ from these? Him We Proclaim by Dennis Johnson seeks to answer this question by drawing from the insights and disciplines of the apostles (2). Rather than focus on homiletics, the author provides a theology of preaching. Since God is sovereign over history and His Word is an inspired unity, the author contends that preachers should emulate the apostles’ doctrine and hermeneutics (often…

The Prayer of the Lord by R. C. Sproul

The best known prayer in Scripture is surely what is normally called the “Lord’s Prayer.” Sproul rightly declares that when the Lord gave this prayer to His disciples in response to their request to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), He was not giving a prayer that He expected us to recite regularly. Rather, it was to serve as a model which teaches us the important components of prayer which honors God. In nine very readable chapters Sproul analyzes each part of the prayer, offering helpful insights, addressing difficulties, and providing appropriate illustrations. He concludes in chapter ten by analyzing some common questions about prayer, followed by an appendix on the sovereignty of God in relation to prayer. Sproul’s “already, not yet” eschatological understanding shows up, as would be expected, when discussing the Kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven (pp. 46-48). I would not be…

Senders: How Your Church Can Identify, Train and Deploy Missionaries by Paul Seger

Paul Seger is the Director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide, a conservative mission agency with hundreds of missionaries serving throughout the world. Prior to taking the helm at BMW Paul was a missionary in South Africa for 17 years and grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria. With this background Seger is well-equipped to offer insight into sending missionaries in the 21st century. Seger discusses to some extent the qualifications and job description of missionaries (pp. 89-93, 103-104), although it should be noted that he targets missionaries on the frontlines of church planting and discipleship with little attention given to support missionaries. Presumably, missionaries who work in maintenance, IT, construction, etc. would not require the same skills as those starting churches. Seger also clarifies that those devoted to social justice issues are not missionaries in the biblical sense, even though they are engaged in meaningful work, because they are not…

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views by Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell

Hermeneutical approaches have greatly expanded in recent years even within conservative Christianity. Proponents of various methods often share much common ground and therefore come to many of the same conclusions, and yet important differences often arise. In this volume the editors selected five prominent hermeneutical views and assigned a scholar to describe and defend each approach and then apply their methodology to an interpretation of Matthew 2:12-16 and its use of Hosea 11:1. A response section follows in which each scholar critiques the other four views. Craig Blomberg champions what is normally called the historical-grammatical hermeneutic which seeks to discover the original meaning of the biblical text as intended by the author, and then make application to the current readership. While Blomberg claims to appreciate the other approaches he rightly sees his as foundational to all others (p. 28). Rather strangely, he adds the word “critical” to his methodology, terming…

Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby by Edith L. Blumhofer

This excellent biography of one of the most prolific and well-known hymn writers in church history is well researched, readable, educational and in many ways encouraging. Crosby was blind from early childhood but never let her lack of sight slow her down. She had an incredible ability to write singable poetry, some of which was political, patriotic, and sentimental. But she is known today for her many hymns (somewhere between 6,000-10,000) which reflected, and perhaps to some degree shaped, the evangelicalism of the 19th century. She lived 95 years (from 1820-1915), staying productive to the end, and died a national and Christian treasure. As with any good biography more is covered than merely the main subject. Blumhofer also carefully outlines the development and key changes in sacred music during the 1800s. Important individuals of the times, men and women most of us know little about now, were instrumental in shaping…

The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor, Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D. A. Carson

More attention is being given of late to the value of theology and scholarship in the life of the pastor. Much of this apparently stemmed from a 2009 gathering by the same name as this book, and by the same men, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, coming on the heels of the Gospel Coalition National Conference (p. 15). This meeting, along with the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology, has fueled renewed interest in the pastor-theologian concept that was far more common in the past. This little book contributes to the conversation. The two authors have had long and successful ministries. Both were born in 1946 and both received their doctorates from liberal European schools: Piper (university of Munich), Carson (Cambridge). Carson began his ministry as a pastor and shifted to the academy, while Piper originally was a Bible college professor who became a pastor. Both have spent their…

The Pastor Theologian, Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson

There was a time, as Hiestand and Wilson document, when local pastors led the church theologically. They preached doctrinally solid sermons, wrote theological works and interacted with the scholarship of their day. But all that began to change with the rise of the university prior to the Reformation (p. 33). Ultimately the role of theological study and development shifted to the academy and to professors who devoted themselves to scholarly endeavors. Pastors gave ground to the seminary and professional theologians and contented themselves with the more practical details of church life. In many cases pastors stopped attending to theology altogether, except for the basics. As a result, in recent days, it has become rare to cite a pastor who devotes much of his attention to the study and teaching of theology. Almost nonexistent is the pastor who is engaged in current theological debate with academic scholars or who actually writes…

Onward, Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

Onward was Christianity Today’s 2015 “Book of the Year.” It is written by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a rising star in both the SBC and in evangelicalism. Onward, in essence, is an overview analysis of our times and especially of the Christian subculture. We, in America, live in a post-Christian (pp. 2-10, 24-26, 30, 32, 46), or perhaps pre-Christian (p. 218) era, in which the culture around us is becoming increasingly secular. Even the Bible Belt is collapsing, yet Moore is happy to see it go for a number of reasons (p. 3). First, much of the Bible Belt, and much of evangelicalism for that matter, preaches not the true gospel but the “almost-gospel” (see p. 172) in which Christian values have been misunderstood as the gospel (pp. 6, 16, 30, 178). Secondly, much of today’s church has…

Faith Speaking Understanding, Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

In 2005 highly regarded theologian Kevin Vanhoozer wrote an intense scholarly tome entitled The Drama of Doctrine. The present volume was written to make his unique approach to the understanding of Scripture, which he calls theodrama, more assessable to pastors and serious lay students of the Bible. But make no mistake; this work is a difficult read that only the adventurous should attempt, but if they do they will be rewarded for their effort. Vanhoozer’s thesis is that true discipleship cannot take place apart from theology, defined repeated as both knowing and doing truth (e.g. pp. xii, e, 20). He writes, “Desire for God without doctrine is blind, doctrine without desire is empty” (p. xiv). The uniqueness of Vanhoozer’s approach is the use of the theodramatic model (apparently gleaned from Kierkegaard — p. 18), which he believes articulates theology (by his definition) better than standard propositional, narrative or story methods…

The Resolution for Women By Priscilla Shirer

The Resolution for Women was written as a companion book to The Resolution for Men and both are part of the follow-up material for the movie Courageous. The author, 31 year old (p. 234) Priscilla Shirer, is a popular women’s speaker and daughter of Pastor Tony Evans. Shirer began her career as a motivational speaker for Zig Ziglar (p. 112) and now often travels with Beth Moore and Kay Arthur (p. 189) speaking at Bible conferences for women. She is clearly an articulate and winsome communicator. Both books are designed to encourage Christian men and women to make a number of resolutions which will aid in their spiritual growth and usefulness. I have some reservations about this approach (see my review of The Resolution for Men), nevertheless both books offer some helpful insights and instructions, although I would be more supportive of the material found in the men’s book. That…

Ecumenical Quest for a World Federation by Martin Erdmann

Ecumenical Quest for a World Federation is an excellent work which informs us of the past and gives us much to consider for the future. Erdmann writes of the era when World War I was approaching and a number of influential people gave thought to what could possibly abolish war and solve most of the world’s social ills. Following the Great War it was determined by many that only a “new world order” could accomplish such a feat. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles many felt the seeds for the next world war were planted and, as the next twenty years demonstrated, they were correct. Something had to be done about war and its lasting devastation. A new world order was urgently needed but standing in its way was the issue of nationalism. John Foster Dulles, the principle mover behind the new world order, believed the “solution [lay]…

The Gospel of the Lord, How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird

Michael Bird, lecturer in theology at Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College in Australia, has written this work to address “the questions of how the Gospels came to be, what kinds of literature they are, and how they relate to Christian discourse about God…[and] to explore how the Gospels were shaped by the Christian movement and how they shape that movement themselves” (pp vii-ix). Toward this end, Bird has provided an intense volume in which he interacts with the latest scholarship, from liberal to conservative, on all related issues. He discusses the origins of the four Gospels, oral traditions, form criticism, literary genre and goal of the Gospels. The heart of the book however, is concerned with the Synoptic problem (pp 127-187) and the Johannine question (pp 188-22). The Synoptic problem is why Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar and yet different in many ways. Also at issue is the…

He That Is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer

He That Is Spiritual is a classic book on spirituality that has shaped the Christian community’s thinking for almost 100 years. Much solid teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how it applies to the believer is found on its pages. Chafer devotes a chapter each to the filling of the Spirit, not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. He concludes with a chapter detailing issues surrounding salvation and practical steps to take in applying all that has been taught. However, Chafer’s teachings are not without controversy. The three principle ones are: The existence of a carnal Christian. Drawing principally from I Corinthians 3, Chafer sees three clear classes of humanity: The natural, the spiritual and the carnal. The natural man is the unbeliever, the spiritual person is the one who is filled and walking in the Spirit. The carnal Christian is…

The Resolution for Men by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

This book’s origin is found in the Christian movie Courageous. For those inspired by the movie to be men of God, or even for those having never seen the film, The Resolution of Men provides a helpful tool to place into practice certain resolves that characterize the man who follows Christ. The opening words set the pace: This book is an unapologetic call for men to live courageously for the faith and their families. It is designed to strategically challenge you to become the man God created you to be (p. 1). The means to accomplish this goal, according to the authors, is to declare and endeavor to keep, “The Resolution” which consists of 12 promises loosely based on Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (p. 5). Part one of the book is a challenge to commit to the resolution while part two…

A Pastor Prays for His People by Wendell C. Hawley

When Kent Hughes retired as pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, Wendell Hawley was asked to write and deliver the pastoral prayer each Sunday morning. This book is a collection of 73 of those prayers. There is one for every Sunday of the year plus others for special occasions. Many of those reading A Pastor Prays use extemporaneous prayers almost exclusively, and that by conviction. Nevertheless, reading Hawley’s prayers is both uplifting and educational. The prayers might be read at local churches but, if not, they serve as a wonderful model of worshipful, theological and practical public praying. Sharp distinctions between prayers appropriate for the Old Testament and the church age are sometimes lacking (such as frequent mentions of the church being God’s house), and there are a few Scriptures taken out of context. But the majority of the content is biblically sound and edifying.  (Tyndale House: Carol Stream,…

Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart by J. D. Greear

Many Christians lack the assurance of their salvation, either as a result of faulty teaching, their own personal sins, confusion about saving faith, or a combination of all of these and more. Pastor J. D. Greear has struggled with the same doubts and writes this little volume to help others who are dealing with similar reservations. At the same time Greear wants to be careful not to give false assurances of regeneration. He believes Satan loves to deceive believers into being unsure of their salvation and delude unbelievers into thinking they are saved (p. 6). Faith, or the saving response, as the author sees it, is repentance and belief in the gospel (p. 7). But repentance and belief are not two separate steps, they are part of the same whole: “Repentance is belief in action” (p. 40). And while he cautions against an overly radical Lordship position that places too…

Shattered Shepherds Finding Hope in the Midst of Ministry Disaster by Steve Swartz

Pastor Swartz has written a helpful resource to offer hope to pastors who have faced (or are facing) difficult times, even disasters, in their ministries. He writes to help wounded pastors gain traction with the hope that they will stay on the battlefield as shepherds of the local church. It is obvious that Swartz is writing as one who has been in the furnace himself, but autobiographical illistrations are few. Swartz breaks his little book into two clear parts: what the struggling pastor must stop doing and what he must start doing. Five practical things the hurting pastor must stop doing are highlighted. He must: stop blaming others, defending himself, worrying constantly, succumbing to anger, and viewing himself as a hero. In each of the categories Swartz provides practical and biblical insights and directives. In part two Swartz directs his readers to genuinely trust the sovereignty of God, accept the…

Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Surprised By Hope attempts to “recapture the Christian answer to death and beyond and the nature of our task as we wait” (pp. XII-XIII). Said differently the book addresses two questions: “What is the ultimate Christian hope?” and, “What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?” (p. 5). Wright sees hope for the first question in the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees the resurrection of the believer. He provides strong arguments for the historical resurrection of Jesus (pp. 53-76), and repeatedly affirms that, while Christians enter the presence of God at death, their ultimate destiny lies in their bodily resurrection and life on the new earth (pp. 28, 41, 171-172). These discussions are the strongest features of the book. Wright stumbles, however, when he attempts to resolve his second question – what hope does the resurrection give for present transformation of the…

For the Glory of God, Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, by Daniel I. Block

Reading For the Glory of God had the feel of sitting at the feet of a learned professor as he pours out a lifetime of study of the Scriptures. The book provides insightful understanding concerning many biblical matters but is primarily focused on tracing the theme of worship throughout the Bible. Block states his thesis as such: In addition to a commitment to let all Scripture contribute to the recovery of a biblical theology of worship, this book is driven by two other foundational principles. First, true worship is essentially a vertical exercise, the human response to the divine Creator and Redeemer. For this reason the goal of authentic worship is the glory of God rather than the pleasure of human beings, which means that forms of worship should conform to the will of God rather than to the whims of fallen humanity. Second, knowledge of the nature and forms…

A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutiérrez

Originally written in 1971, this revised edition contains a new introduction, in addition to the original, and the reworking of portions of the first edition. While many similar ideals had been circulating prior to its publication, and were expressed in the Vatican II Council documents (1965) and the Medellin Conference (1968), A Theology of Liberation marks the official launching of the liberation theology movement and Gustavo Gutiérrez is seen as its father. Since then liberation theology continues to spread, morph and influence the Christian community not only in Latin America but throughout the world. While not embraced in totality, many of its ideas have filtered into the evangelical church and are expressed in the latest round of the social gospel. In A Theology of Liberation we find the roots of this social agenda being espoused by key Christian leaders and organizations today. A Theology of Liberation is a dense, detailed,…

God’s Super-Apostles Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec

This little volume presents an excellent overview of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement that promotes the fivefold ministry (pp. 13, 137) which teaches that God has given the church five continuing governmental offices: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Apostles as well as prophets are again active in the church today (there are about 400 of them – p. 16) and churches must submit to their authority (pp. XIII, 8, 10, 11, 96). Since NAR is a movement (pp. 3-6, 48, 125) rather than an organization, its adherents are not monolithic in their views but certain teachings can be identified including: New truths regularly being revealed by God through the modern apostles and prophets (pp. XV, 1, 50-61, 65-66). Supernatural power available to advance God’s kingdom (p. 3). Demonic warfare and the casting out of demons and generational curses (pp. 1, 49, 51, 79-90). Dominionism (p. 81), sometimes called…

What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has written this book to provide a biblical defense of the traditional understanding of homosexuality by Christians for 2000 years (p. 15). The book seeks to answer the following question: “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing” (p. 15)? In response the book breaks down into two parts, the first dealing with the five most debated and relevant biblical texts related to homosexuality (p. 19). These are Genesis 1-2, God’s design for marriage; Genesis 13, Sodom and Gomorrah; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, concerning the Old Testament’s condemnation of homosexual practices; Romans 1:18-32, the New Testament’s prohibition of homosexual behavior; and specific meaning of Greek words used for homosexuality in the Bible. Part two addresses seven of the most common objections to the traditional view…

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, Being Friends in Grace & Truth by Glenn T. Stanton

Glenn Stanton is on staff with Focus on the Family and as part of his ministry conducts lectures and debates on gender and sexuality. He is well equipped, both doctrinally and practically, to intellectually write a book on homosexuality and the church. He, as well as Focus, is 100% committed to the biblical view of sexuality (pp. 11-12). The question is how do we stay faithful to Scripture and deal truthfully and lovingly with those who believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle and should be condoned by the church? Stanton provides much to consider beginning with six fundamental truths: Everybody is a human person. No exceptions. Every human person is of inestimable worth and value, none more than another. No exceptions. Everyone is deeply and passionately loved by God. No exceptions. Unfortunately everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. No exceptions. All, as children of Adam, are tragically…

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

In typical Yancey fashion the author uses his journalistic skills to question and dig deeper into a subject that perplexes him. This time it is Jesus. He is convinced that his fundamentalist upbringing clouds the real Jesus in his thinking. Over and over he makes derogatory comments about his boyhood church and hot beds of fundamentalism (in his opinion) such as Moody Bible Institute (pp. 14, 80, 85, 148, 187, 239, 252). Given this backdrop he sets out to discover the real Jesus. On the positive side, one of his key sources is the four Gospels which he has studied intently. Unfortunately, he has read the Gospels through various lenses which have skewed his view. Avoiding the rest of the New Testament—a serious error (p. 261)—he has attempted to discover Jesus through 15 Hollywood films (pp. 21-22, 85-86, 88, 193) and numerous novelists such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy (pp. 74, 121,…

Mission Drift, the Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

Mission Drift describes the all too common drift from the original purpose and mission that organizations (the authors are primarily focused on Christian non-profit and churches) experience in time. Two dimensions of drift are described—personal and institutional (p. 12). The authors state their goal as: We want to name and illustrate the causes of Mission Drift. We want to help you clarify the missions of the organizations you most love. And we want to equip you with the safeguards to reinforce and protect them (p. 30). I believe Greer and Horst achieve their goal through a number of avenues. First they provide excellent stories of organizations such as the YMCA (pp. 11, 68-69), Harvard University (pp. 16-17, 144-146), Yale University (p. 18), Franciscans’ food banks (pp. 19-20), Christian Children’s Fund (pp. 24-26), ChildFund (p. 41), Pew Trust (pp. 60-64) and Veggie Tales (pp. 98-99), who have drifted radically from their…

Integrating Exegesis and Exposition by Dr. Christopher Cone

The latest book by Dr. Christopher Cone is a presentation that stems from an essential drive that ought to be possessed by all believers — that of allowing the Scriptures to have unfettered, unhindered access to their lives for the purpose of spiritual change / growth. Citing Romans 12:1-2, Dr. Cone demonstrates in the opening paragraph of the book that a process of transformation is to occur for all Christians as the “expected response” to the great doctrinal truths of Romans 1-11, rightly labeled as “God’s mercies.” He then conveys the logic flow which dictates that for the Scriptures to transform a life, they must be communicated by means of properly equipped voices determined to uphold the faithful transmission of God’s Word to others; and that to be done excluding all purely human influences and distractions. It is then that biblical communicators merit being “faithful stewards” and “diligent workers” (p.…

Generous Justice, How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

In Generous Justice Timothy Keller is making a case for social justice as it relates to the corporate church and to individual Christians. Each chapter begins with a call to justice from the Bible which shows the foundation of a just, generous human community (see p. xvi) followed by the author’s biblical and philosophical defense of the propositions found in that chapter. Keller says that he is writing this book for four kinds of people: young believers who respond with joy to the call to care for the needy, those who approach the subject of “doing justice” with suspicion, younger evangelicals who have “expanded their mission” to include social justice along with evangelism, and those who believe that the idea that the Bible is devoted to justice is absurd (pp. x-xiv). Keller thinks all four types of readers “fail at some level to see that the Biblical gospel of Jesus…

Liberation Theology by Emilio A. Núñez C.

This book deals with the biblical, theological and sociological issues concerning liberation theology (p. 12). Liberation theology is a new way of doing theology (pp. 8, 17, 35, 74, 81, 122-124, 131-171), born out of the Latin American social context. It discards capitalism (pp. 29-31, 56-57, 95, 119, 156-157, 215), is a theology of action (praxis) rather than doctrine (pp. 136-138, 147-148, 188), rejects the reliability of Scripture (pp. 143-146, 216, 233-235) and when interpreting Scripture uses a hermeneutic of the kingdom of God as its guide (pp. 145, 155, 167, 189, 198-202, 226, 264). Liberation theology is concerned with social salvation, or the transformation of society, rather than spiritual salvation (pp. 176-206). Utopia is the goal (pp. 195-197, 200-201, 254) and it is achieved often through revolution and violence (p. 267). Even the person of Christ is changed: since the liberation theologians do not believe we can rely upon…

The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity by Todd Hartch

Christianity is on the rise in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and in decline in Europe and North America (pp. XIII-XIV, 1). But what form of Christianity has emerged in Latin America and what has shaped it during the past 60 years? Answering these questions is the mission of Todd Hartch’s book. Hartch believes that Latin American Christianity has been reborn during the last six decades and as a result Christianity in Latin countries is vastly different from the 1950s and before. There have been five forces behind this rebirth: This book argues that Christianity in Latin American was reborn in five ways reminiscent of the vital church of the early colonial period: (1) as a movement of witnesses and evangelists, (2) as a prophetic movement committed to the poor and the oppressed, (3) as a Pentecostal movement oriented toward spiritual and emotional religious experience, (4) as a lay movement,…

Simply Good News, Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good by N. T. Wright

Christianity Today proclaims N. T. Wright to be the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist since C. S. Lewis (on the dust cover). If so, then whether you agree with him or not, what Wright says carries considerable weight. In Simply Good News Wright is defining the gospel and working out its implications. He repeatedly, and correctly, states that the gospel is not good advice; it is a good news message about an event that has changed everything (pp. 4, 16). But Wright’s understanding about this event (which includes the cross and the resurrection) is not what many would assume. He agrees the message that Jesus died for our sins and took our punishment so that we could be saved and go to heaven is true, but it is a distorted message, which does not go far enough and in some…

Biblical Apologetics, Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ by Clifford B. McManis

McManis believes that the five traditional apologetical approaches (classical, evidential, cumulative case, Reformed and presuppositional) make major mistakes. Each approach attempts to defend the Christian faith by largely ignoring the Bible and offering philosophical answers instead. Even presuppositionism, with which McManis identifies, tends to be mostly philosophical rather than biblical. Therefore the author provides a sixth view which he calls “biblical apologetics.” He writes, “In the following pages I propose that apologetics needs to be explained from a biblical perspective, not a philosophical one” (p.28). He defines biblical apologetics as the “biblical mandate for every Christian to advance and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ…exposing and subjecting all contrary beliefs to Christ’s revelations as found in Scripture” (p.29). Throughout the book McManis exposes in great detail what he sees as flaws in the five major apologetical views, offering numerous quotes from key apologetics within each system. He especially dislikes natural…

Church Unique, How Mission Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini

Will Mancini leads Auxano, a team of church consultants (although they prefer the word “navigators”) who are training pastors on how to “do church” in the 21st century. Church Unique lays out the ideas and goals of Auxano. In many ways Church Unique is much like many church management books written in the last 50 years. It emphasizes vision, teaches how to form and implement strategy, and virtually insures success if you will but follow the principles within. Mancini is a motivational writer, par excellent. His use of superlatives is extensive. In fact, they are used so often as to lose their effect; after all, not everything can be mind-blowing and earth-shaking. Like other books of this genre, Church Unique is also complicated. To actually work Mancini’s system well from the book alone would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Those serious about applying these ideas will no doubt need…

The Sacred Text, Biblical Authority in Nineteenth-Century America by Ronald F. Satta

It is commonly taught in evangelical scholarship that the doctrine of inerrancy was invented and developed by A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield in 1881 with publication of their paper “Inspiration” (see pp. XI, 33). Ronald Satta proves in this small work that such was not the case—that, in fact, conservative theologians going back to the Reformation (pp. 2-3,9), and indeed to the Church Fathers (p. 54) have held to a well-defined view of both the authority of the Scripture and inerrancy of the Bible in the original autographs. Satta carefully surveys the commonly held views by conservative Christians during the nineteenth-century in America and concludes that “the assertion that inerrancy is a novelty is exposed as incorrect. Rather than innovators, fundamentalists are cast as the standard-bearers of the ascendant theory of biblical authority commonly endorsed among many of the leading Protestant elite in nineteenth-century America” (p. XV). As…

The Holy Spirit by A. W. Pink

A. W. Pink lived from 1886 to 1952 and wrote numerous books including The Holy Spirit. It has been critiqued and reviewed by numerous people and therefore warrants no extensive review from me at this time. A few comments will suffice. Of a positive nature, Pink expounds on many marvelous truths related to the Holy Spirit. He devotes 32 chapters, each detailing one aspect of the Holy Spirit, such as deity and personality, or some ministry directed to mankind, such as indwelling, transforming and convicting. Chapters average about five pages and therefore lend themselves to daily reading of a meatier level than common devotional works. There is much to appreciate in most of these chapters. Depending on one’s theological convictions, Pink’s covenantal and strong Reformed views will either irritate or please. He clearly equates the church with Israel (p. 20), believing that God abandoned Israel prior to the crucifixion (p.…

How to Interpret the Bible for Yourself by Richard Mayhue

This is an excellent little study on basic hermeneutics and Bible study methods. It is filled with good suggestions and ideas, and written on a level that most readers could readily understand and apply. Dr. Mayhue is the Dean of The Master’s Seminary and as such is used to dealing with heavy theological issues. Yet, in this, his love for the simple truths of the Scriptures has in no way been dimmed. The reader of this volume will be encouraged and motivated to be a lover of the Word. I highly recommend it.

Warfield on the Christian Life, Living in the Light of the Gospel by Fred G. Zaspel

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was among the greatest theological minds ever produced in America (some compare him favorably with Jonathan Edwards), yet he has lost favor in our postmodern era. He was one of the famous “old Princeton” theologians, along with Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge and J. Gresham Machen, and taught at Princeton from 1873-1921, during some of the most tumultuous times in modern church history. He published massive amounts of indepth doctrinal material, taught more than a generation of pastors and Christian leaders, and was one of the most influential evangelicals of his day. Nevertheless, during his lifetime liberals were slowly gaining dominance in the West and in 1929 Princeton itself officially repudiated the fundamentals of Scripture, which Warfield had devoted his life to teach and defend. Today, despite his great efforts, Warfield is largely ignored except by some in the Reformed camp who recognize his contribution to our…

Left Behind and the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben

As the title implies Gribben has written a critique of evangelicalism as represented by the wildly popular fictional series Left Behind authored by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Gribben’s conclusion is that the novels have poor theology of salvation, the church and the Christian life, even though being admittedly theologically sound much of the time. Gribben correctly understands the Left Behind series to be drawn from a dispensational view of Scripture. As a result the author has much to say about dispensationalism—its history, proponents, critics, and distinctions. I believe he fairly represents dispensationalism, which is not particularly common for someone of Reformed persuasion. He deals with popular myths about dispensationalism and rightly distinguishes between theologians who espouse a carefully thought out system and extremists who practice “current event” theology and set dates for the return of Christ. He would place the Left Behind novels, along with most “rapture fiction” past…

Defense of the Truth by Michael Haykin

This is a marvelous little book (only 129 pages) which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and, at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today. Some of the key characters found in Haykin’s book include those we term the “Church Fathers:” Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, Athanasius, Augustine and Patrick. The value of the book is multi-facet. We are provided with: Information concerning some of the heresies and challenges which faced the early church. Sketches of the lives of several Church Fathers, as well as their antagonists. Details of how some important doctrines (the Trinity in particular) were debated and ultimately accepted. A general history of the first centuries of Christianity. I particularly found the story of the ebb and flow of premillennialism very interesting, The Defence of the Truth is an excellent book, informative yet easy…

The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken

Leland Ryken is a professor of English at Wheaton College and a well-known literary critic and scholar. His interest in the translation of Scripture into English was enriched and heightened when he served on the translation committee for the English Standard Version. He writes, “On the basis of that inquiry, I ended with a belief that only an essentially literal translation of the Bible can achieve sufficiently high standards in terms of literary criteria and fidelity to the original text. Consequently, I have ended with a deep-seated distrust of how dynamic equivalent translations treat the biblical text” (p. 10). This thorough, well-written volume is a polemic supporting this conviction. As a literary scholar, Ryken’s interest lies with the English text rather than the handling of the original Greek and Hebrew. His concern is that, in an attempt by modern translators to provide a readable English Bible, they (those following the…

A Word for the Day by J.D. Watson

Most “devotional” books and booklets function like spiritual vitamins – take one a day and you will feel better. But neither vitamin pills nor devotional books were ever meant to replace balanced diets; they are meant to be supplements. Hence, most devotional material is light on doctrine, designed to give the reader a spiritual lift more than instruction in truth. Enter Dr. Watson’s excellent book. Ignoring the normal lighthearted paradigm of this genre of literature, Dr. Watson offers biblical meat and potatoes. I can think of no other book of this type that so meticulously enlightens the mind as it encourages the heart. J. D. Watson is at heart a pastor and he can’t help but sermonize on occasion. With some of these comments the reader may take issue, as they might with any author. Also, Watson’s strong preference for the KJV is apparent, which might not sit well with…

What on Earth Is God Doing? by Renald E. Showers

This book provides a biblical answer and reveals Satan’s counterfeit to the three major worldview questions: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? (p. 128). The Lord has a plan and a goal for all of His creation, and it is these that Satan makes every attempt to thwart. Since God’s ultimate purpose is made possible only through the Redeemer, the devil focuses much of his attention on subverting, or even attempting to eliminate, the Savior. What on Earth Is God Doing? traces this conflict between God and Satan through history. Showers understands all of history in light of this conflict and, therefore, reads both biblical accounts and historical events through this lens. This being the case, the author often does not proof-text many of his statements but sees events in light of his understanding of this conflict. For example, concerning Cain’s murder of…

The Voice of Luke, Not Even Sandals by Brian McLaren

The Voice of Luke is part of “The Voice Project” sponsored by the Ecclesia Bible Society. The project is derived from the concept that people today think, and therefore, need to read differently. “Instead of propositional-thought patterns, people today are more likely to interact with events and individuals through complex observations involving emotions, cognitive processes, tactile experiences, and spiritual awareness” (p. ix). It is for this reason the goal of “The Voice Project” to tell the story of the Bible in a narrative format, in order that the “passion, grit, humor and beauty” which is often lost in most translations, is recaptured. “One way to describe this approach is to say that it is a ‘soul translation’ not just a ‘mind translation’” (p. x). The editors admit, however, that their translations of Scripture are really a cross between translation and paraphrase, a “retelling” which seeks to bring “the biblical narratives…

The Trinity, a Journal And Historic Creeds, a Journal by Kenneth Boa

Ken Boa, who received a master’s degree in Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, as well as doctoral degrees from New York University and the University of Oxford, is president of Reflections Ministries as well as Trinity House Publishers. He is the author of several books including four journals in the Reflections series, all published by NavPress. The two journals under review, along with the other two journals in the series, Sacred Readings and The Psalms, all attempt to do the same thing: take the reader on a meditative journal through the Scriptures or creeds via the use of “the ancient art of sacred reading,” better known as lectio divina. It is important to know that lectio is not found, promoted or prescribed anywhere in the Word of God. It is a technique invented by the “Eastern desert father John Cassian early in the fifth century” (all quotations come from…

Translating Truth by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, C. John Collins, Vern S. Poythress, Bruce Winter

Translating Truth is a defense of the “essentially literal” (“word-for-word”) approach to biblical translation as opposed to the “dynamic equivalent” or “thought-for-thought” renderings. Each of the five contributors was part of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version, an essentially literal translation published in 2001. The first chapter, by Wayne Grudem, is extremely informative and sets the agenda for the entire book. Grudem lays out his position: “Translators should not only ask, ‘Have I rendered the main idea of this sentence correctly?’ but should also ask, ‘Have I represented correctly the meaning that each word contributes to this sentence?’” (p. 29). Having so framed the debate, Grudem moves on to give examples of how dynamic equivalent translations leave out the meaning of some words which are in the original text and add meaning that are not there. As a result, dynamic equivalent translations cannot be trusted for serious…

Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, A Book by Book Survey by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 336 pp., paper $12.99

If you happen to own Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible you have the same book in a different format. Each Old Testament book is addressed by a different author who provides background information, overviews the theological message, discusses its place in the canon and its historic interpretation, and provides various insights. The volume is not designed to offer in-depth study of the individual books or even a good survey. Its main contribution is a quick index to a variety of views concerning interpretation and contemporary scholarship. Beyond that I did not think the book was very helpful.

Ten Keys for Unlocking the Bible by Colin S. Smith

This little volume is the forerunner of a series of four books entitled Unlockingthe Bible. It is designed to give a high-altitude view of Scripture to those unfamiliar with its message. With this in mind, as I read the book I kept asking myself, “Would I give this to a new believer?” My answer is “no!” for two reasons. First, it “flies” so high and far that I think the “view” is missed almost entirely. Someone unfamiliar with Scripture would gain little from this book. Secondly, Smith makes a number of errors in his biblical interpretation. He misunderstands Galatians 3:2-4 in particular (p. 31) and the Law in general (p. 34). He does not understand the purpose of the Pentecost in Acts 2 (pp. 108, 109). He misinterprets Romans 7 and 8 (pp. 119, 120). And he gives the all too common (by evangelicals) implication that Mother Teresa was the…

A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur

MacArthur provides us with a comprehensive, readable and thoroughly biblical exposition of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” In contrast to a well-publicized study of sermons on this great parable (See Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, pp. 48-61) which twisted the story into various therapeutic explanations, MacArthur rightly explains that the parable was aimed at the hard-hearted, legalistic Pharisees and the central figure is the “good” son, not the father or the Prodigal. MacArthur’s understanding is summed up early in the book. The prodigal represents a typical sinner who comes to repentance. The father’s patience, love, generosity, and delight over the son’s return are clear and perfect emblems of divine grace. The prodigal’s heart change is a picture of what true repentance should look like. And the elder brother’s cold indifference—the real focal point of the story, as it turns out—is a vivid representation of the same evil hypocrisy Jesus…

The Story of Joseph and Judah by Warren Austin Gage and Christopher Barber

This volume is the first in a planned series entitled “The Masterpiece Study Series.” When completed, the ten volumes will cover a number of other major Old Testament characters, as well as the four Gospels and their human authors. These books are not commentaries as such, but more like guided tours through biblical literature. Each chapter includes helpful background and theological information, numerous study questions, plus suggested application and reflection. Concerned that too often students of Scripture get lost in the details, the authors want their readers to dig deeply but at the same time stand back and enjoy the big picture. “Our goal in this study,” they write, “is to help recover something that has largely been lost, by learning to read the Bible not only as a scientist, but also as an act of love” (p. 6). The Story of Joseph and Judah is intended to guide the…

Soul Restoration: Hope for the Weary by Terri Blackstock

Blackstock, formerly a writer of secular romantic novels, is now an author of Christian fiction (none of which have I read). At the conclusion of her novels Blackstock has made it her habit to write a short afterword stating clearly the spiritual point that she has tried to flesh out in her story. These afterwords, with some additions, comprise the content of this little devotional book. Soul Restoration contains two dozen inspirational readings which, for the most part, are true to Scripture and helpful to the reader. There are exceptions to this as Blackstock occasionally uses Scripture out of context or claims an extrabiblical promoting from the Lord. The most notorious of such accounts is on page 32 in which the Lord supposedly prompted her to read Isaiah 49:24-25, take it out of context and claim a promise from Him for a spiritual healing for a friend’s unsaved daughter. Although…

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis By William Webb

William Webb, who received his ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary and is presently professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary, has written this book to introduce and promote a new hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures, what he calls “redemptive-movement.” The author’s primary concern is figuring out which statements from the Bible should be followed as expressed in Scripture and which do we have the right to take further to the redemptive spirit of the statement due to cultural changes (p. 13). Webb is trying to weave a path somewhere between what he calls static hermeneutics (grammatical-historical) and radical hermeneutics (liberal and neo-orthodox). With redemptive-movement interpretation the exegete will agree that statements, commands, etc., in Scripture can be taken at face “on the page” value. But the meaning was for the original time and culture only; it was never meant to be timeless in its application. Many statements and commands…

The Promised One by Nancy Guthrie, Wheaton: Crossway, 2011; 285 pp. paper $15.99

The Promised One is a 10 part study guide for women which “is uniquely designed to help you to look into the wonder of the first book of the Old Testament—Genesis—and see how it prepares for and points to Christ” (p. 9). The controlling scriptural passage is Luke 24:27 in which Jesus instructed the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The verse reads, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (ESV). On this foundation Guthrie writes, “Most people see the Bible as a ‘guidebook for life.’ But Jesus is saying here that the Bible is not about what God wants us to do but about who God wants us to see. And it is Jesus we are going to see as we study Genesis together” (p. 24). Herein lie both the strength and the weakness of Guthrie’s…

Prolegomena by Christopher Cone

Prolegomena is the study of presuppositions, definitions and theological methods which are foundational to any doctrinal system. This volume concerning prolegomena is decidedly dispensational in approach and thus lays the groundwork necessary for understanding Scripture dispensationally. Cone, among other things, handles issues related to the existence of God, Scripture, hermeneutics and theology. He spends over a third of the book discussing hermeneutical matters and defending the Historical-Grammatical method. He deals much with Dispensationalism and distinguishes it from Covenant Theology. I believe Cone has done his homework and offers an excellent theological study which is basic to systemic theology.

The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 959 pp., hardback $26.99

This volume is quite similar to Dever’s earlier work on the New Testament, with the same positives and negatives (see review on The Message of the New Testament). The Message of the Old Testament, like its predecessor, provides one transcribed sermon per biblical book, as originally preached by Dever at the church he pastors. The idea is worthy but it proves in practice more difficult with the Old Testament than the New. Some Old Testament books are so massive and their message so foundational to the faith that only one sermon barely touches the highlights (think Genesis, Psalms or Isaiah). Others are so small and relatively insignificant that a full message hardly seems warranted. To devote one message to Jeremiah or Exodus and one to Zephaniah or Obadiah seems out of balance. Since I was using Dever’s book as an aid to my own overview sermon series through the Old…

The Message of the New Testament by Mark Dever

First, let’s mention what this book is not. It is not a one-volume commentary on the New Testament. If you are looking for analysis of difficult issues and texts you will be largely disappointed. Nor is this a Bible handbook giving copious details about authors, dates, outlines and the like. If you need that kind of information you would be wise to look elsewhere. What you will find in The Message on the New Testament are twenty-eight transcribed and edited sermons, one on each book plus an overview message. There is much to commend in Dever’s volume: it gives solid exposition of the biblical texts, presents excellent overviews of the New Testament books, sets forth a great example of how to preach this type of sermon and is edifying to the reader. There are also some negatives—mostly unavoidable due to the nature of the project: Difficult issues are mostly skipped.…

The Last Word by N.T. Wright

N. T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham (Anglican Church), prolific author and biblical scholar, and is best known to many as the unofficial liaison between the New Perspective on Paul and evangelicalism. This work does not deal specifically with the NPP, rather Wright is trying to foster an understanding of Scripture which allows for and even nurtures such views. Wright is proposing what he calls a “new understanding of the authority of Scripture.” Exactly what is this new understanding? Let’s begin with the positive. By definition, Wright states “that the authority of Scripture must mean…‘the authority of God exercised through Scripture’” (p. 25). With this stripped-down definition we can agree. God’s authority is bigger than Scripture—it includes all that He is and does. Still Scripture is God’s written word and carries the full authority of Himself in all it proclaims. The Last Word provides much in the way of…

The King James Only Controversy by James R. White. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1995. 286 pp. $15.00 (paper).

James R. White, an elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church and Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, has written several apologetic books, includingIs the Mormon My Brother, The Roman Catholic Controversy, and What’s With the Dudes at the Door. In The King James Only Controversy, White seeks to “oppose those who would force others to use the KJV or risk God’s wrath for allegedly questioning His Word,” (p. VI). He explains his motivation for writing in the Introduction: It is very important to understand the motivation behind this book. This book is not being written to push one particular translation of the Bible over another. There is no desire to get everyone to read the NASB, or the NIV, or the NKJV, or the RSV, or any other “modern” translation. On the other hand, I am not in any way seeking to stop those who use the KJV from reading…

Interpreting the Historical Books, An Exegetical Handbook by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

This volume is one of six in the “Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis” series edited by David M. Howard Jr. The only others in the series presently available are on the Pentateuch and Psalms. The others: Wisdom Literature, Prophets and Apocalyptic Literature await publication. The books are primarily intended to serve as textbooks for graduate level exegetical courses that assume a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language. However, any well-versed serious student of Scripture would benefit from these works. The book under review, written by the chair of the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary, is helpful on a number of levels. It serves as an excellent primer and introduction to the Old Testament books beginning with Joshua and concluding with Esther. Chisholm opens with a long chapter explaining what narrative literature is including basic elements of a story, structural features, dialogue, the role of the narrator and plot,…

How Readest Thou? By J. C. Ryle

This is my first book by nineteenth century author J. C. Ryle; it will not be my last. How Readest Thou? is an absolutely marvelous exhortation on the value and necessity of reading the Scriptures. It is amazing that a man writing over one hundred and fifty years ago could still speak so relevantly and powerfully to our generation. Anyone who could read this volume and not hunger more greatly for the Word had better call for the spiritual undertaker to pronounce his or her soul dead.

How to Choose a Bible Version, Making Sense of the Proliferation of Bible Translations by Robert L Thomas (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000) 191 pp., paper $11.99

This is quite an impressive little book. In less than 200 pages Professor Thomas of the Master’s Seminary has provided nearly everything the average student of the Bible needs to know about Bible translations in English. For more detailed debates on text-types and translation philosophy and so forth, one would need to supplement this volume. But Thomas gets us in the door and produces an excellent reference and abundant helps for understanding the multitude of translations now available in English. For example: Chapter one gives a short history of English translations, beginning with William Tyndale through The Message. It is most interesting that over 90% of Tyndale’s work found its way into the King James Version (pp. 15, 19). An overview of the Greek textual base is found in chapter two. Thomas spends most of his time on two textual families—the Byzantine and Alexandrian—and shows why he favors the latter…

Hold Your Course 22 Daily Reading from the book of Colossians by Roger Ellsworth

This little volume is sort of a cross between a light commentary on Colossians and a daily devotional. The net effect is very positive as Ellsworth gets us into Scripture and provides helpful insight and probing questions, all in a format that is far meatier than the average devotional material. Hold Your Course would be excellent for personal Bible study as well as group studies.

For the Love of God (2 volumes) by D. A. Carson

Robert Murray M’Cheyne is rightly recognized as a saintly Scottish preacher from the early 1800s. Although he did not live to see 30, his life and writings still touch the hearts of God’s people today. He desired to foster serious Bible reading for his people and, in that regard, he “prepared a scheme for daily reading that would take readers through the New Testament and Psalms twice each year, and through the rest of the Bible once” (p. 12). D. A. Carson has taken M’Cheyne’s system and written two volumes of daily devotional material covering much of the reading in M’Cheyne’s schedule. Carson, being the biblical scholar that he is, supplies meaty comments that far exceed in content the normal devotional booklet. One drawback is that M’Cheyne had four listings per day and Carson, even in two volumes, covers only half of those readings. Another issue is that Carson’s covenantal…

Choosing a Bible by Leland Ryken

Choosing a Bible is an excellent little resource detailing the differences between the three major types of translations: essentially literal, dynamic equivalent and paraphrase. The literal translation, which was the goal of the translator until the middle of the twentieth century, attempted to translate the words of the original Hebrew and Greek texts as literally as possible. Today, the best known translations of this genre are the NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV and RSV. The dynamic equivalent (or functional equivalent) translations are best represented by the NIV, TNIV and NLT. The goal of dynamic equivalency is not word-for-word, but the thought behind the words. Paraphrases such as the LB and The Message are not translations at all but running commentaries, i.e., opinions of the author. Ryken demonstrates clearly the inferiority and danger of the latter two groups. What the dynamic translators give us, he writes, “is a translation plus a commentary”…

By This Name by John Cross

Veteran missionary John Cross has spent a lifetime attempting to communicate the central message of the Word of God to cultures that have little, if any, knowledge of that message. As America and other Western countries become increasingly biblically illiterate, a similar approach is needed here as well. By ThisName is the methodology Cross has developed to communicate this central message. The concept behind this book is that it is most difficult to attempt to evangelize those who have no background in biblical narratives and themes. To give a gospel presentation, even one containing all the essential elements, will not benefit most hearers because they have no context in which to comprehend the message. Worse, if the evangelist is aggressive and forces an immediate decision, the hearers may well profess belief without understanding what they are professing. The result is that the evangelist reports encouraging statistics on conversions and the…

Biblical Sufficiency Applied, General Editor Christopher Cone (Fort Worth: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2011), 319 pp. paper $21.00

Eleven different authors contribute to this book dedicated to the promotion of biblical sufficiency. The volume is less a defense of the sufficiency of Scripture than an application of this important doctrine along a wide range of issues facing the conservative evangelical movement today. As general editor Christopher Cone states, “Biblical Sufficiency Applied is an effort on the part of its several contributors to consider certain areas of contemporary controversy in the light of Scripture” (p. 1). Some of the important issues addressed include: a critique of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins (Cone), biblical counseling (John Adams Tucker), supersessionism (Kevin Zuber), the New Perspective on Paul (myself), worship and music (George Gunn and Arnfield Cudal), contextual interpretation of Scripture (Samuel Dallessandro) and New Covenant Theology (Leon Johnson). As is the nature of such a book, each article serves more as an introduction to the subjects covered rather than a comprehensive…

Biblical Authority By James T. Draper, Jr. and Kenneth Keathley

This is an excellent volume on the inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The authors take a solid position on the Word, give us a quick look at church history in relationship to the Bible and expose the dangers facing the evangelical church today in this regard. Draper and Keathley are both Southern Baptists so they have fought in the trenches over these issues and have much at stake personally. I recommend this book highly.

Ancient Christian Devotional, A Year of Weekly Reading, General Editor: Thomas C. Oden, Editor: Cindy Crosby (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 294 pp., paper

The Ancient Christian Devotional (ACD) is a companion to the massive Ancient Christian Commentary series, both of which are edited by Thomas Oden. The Devotional apparently draws most, if not all, of its material from the commentary, both of which are designed to provide insights into the riches of church history and “help us to read holy writings with ancient eyes” (p. 7). The Devotional offers fifty-two weeks of readings, which follow the liturgical year. The reading for each week is structured around the following elements: theme, opening prayer, reading, Psalm of response, reflection from the church fathers and a closing prayer. The book is well documented and includes an appendix of brief biographical sketches of those quoted in the volume. Most often quoted are Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede, Jerome, and Origen. There are plenty of correct and helpful thoughts in ACD but few that are…

Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,by Timothy Keller (New York: Dutton, 2014)

Popular pastor and author Timothy Keller is influential in evangelical circles today and his views on prayer will shape the understanding of many on the subject. Therefore it was reassuring to find that Keller’s take on prayer is biblical, for the most part. It was encouraging, for example, to find he often challenged both the “soft” mysticism of traditional evangelicals and the classical mysticism found in the Spiritual Formation Movement (pp. 51-52. 57-59, 181-182). He also gives illustration warnings of such illuminaries as George Whitfield who elevated impressions to the level of revelation to his own harm (pp. 63, 995-96, 295). And he rejects what he calls “mantra” meditation (p. 51) and Roman Catholic mysticism (pp. 13, 38-40, 56-59, 149-150, 291). Keller rightly proclaims that God speaks to us through Scripture and we speak to Him in prayer (pp. 45, 52-54, 64, 66, 123-124), and that Scripture is sufficient (pp.…

Can We Still Believe The Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions By Craig L. Blomberg (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014) 287 pp. + XVI, Paper $15.90

Given the many recent challenges to the reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture, most notably by Bart Ehrman, volumes such as this one are needed. Craig Blomberg, long time professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has the scholarly credentials to tackle this topic. Blomberg believes, contrary to popularized skepticism concerning the Bible, that new studies and findings have actually given us greater reasons to trust Scripture. There are six such areas that he wants to identify (see pp. 7-12) and he devotes long chapters to each. It should be mentioned at this point that some of Blomberg’s most important thoughts are found in his endnotes. Given this fact, a better choice would have been to place these comments in footnotes. I found constantly flipping back to the endnotes time consuming and annoying, but necessary if the arguments of the book are to be understood. The first chapter, and the best…

The Circle Maker Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears By Mark Batterson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 217 pp., Paper, $14.99

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., is offering a new way of praying (see advertisement on page 233) based on a Jewish legend of Honi the Rainmaker, also called Honi the Circle Maker (pp. 11-13, 226). Honi supposedly drew a circle in the dirt, stepped into that circle, and prayed for rain to end a devastating drought in first century B.C. God, according to the myth, answered that prayer. When Batterson discovered this story, one which is almost certainly per myth and not historical, it forever changed the way he prayed (p. 21). Now he circles his prayers, either by stepping into a drawn circle like Honi or by walking around the object of his desire, as the Jews walked around Jericho in the Old Testament. By circling our prayers, apparently they are more likely to come true producing a miracle. If my count is…

The God Who Is There Finding Your Place in God’s Story By D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010) 233 pp. Paper, $16.99

Don Carson admits up front that this book is not for everyone. It is not bumper sticker theology, yet it is aimed at those who have little acquaintance with the Bible (p. 9). The author’s approach is to “run through the Bible in fourteen chapters. Each chapter focuses on one or more passages from the Bible, unpacks it a little, and tries to build connections with the context, drawing the lines together to show how they converge in Jesus” (p. 9). The combination of these features makes for a unique volume, tracing the story-line of the Bible and revealing its major themes for the novice while providing challenging concepts and exegesis for even the most competent of Bible students. But it is at this point that the objective of the book seems to break down. I personally gained a great deal from much of what Carson wrote and I would…

The Less Traveled Road and the Bible, A Scriptural Critique of the Philosophy of M. Scott Peck by H. Wayne House and Richard Abanes (Camp Hill, PA: Horizon Books: 1995), 248 pp.

M. Scott Peck, M.D., and his philosophy of life, has made considerable in-roads in the evangelical community, especially after his celebrated claim of conversion many years ago. His emphasis on discipline, love, religion and grace seems to fit well with biblical theology. Yet, as Wayne House and Richard Abanes document, all is not as it seems. Peck may claim to be a Christian, and he uses much biblical terminology and Christian lingo which at first glance may seem to be in line with conservative Christianity, but the fact is Peck’s teachings are often quite foreign to Scripture. For example Peck: Sees God more in line with Hindu pantheism (pp. 27-32, 107, 209-211), and New Age “we are god” myths (pp. 129, 179, 209-211) than with traditional Christianity. Sees the Bible as a mixture of truth, myth and error (pp. 60, 200-205), and no more inspired than he is (p. 10).…

The Ways of the Alongsider Growing Disciples Life2Life By Bill Mowry (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), 151 pp., paper $14.99

In many ways this book is a standard Navigators’ discipleship tool similar to numerous others the Navigators have published through the years. Many of the methods, charts, and worksheets are the same. The uniqueness of this volume is the emphasis on the “amateur” discipler (p. 105). The idea, and it is a good one, is that those desiring to make disciples don’t have to be experts; they do however need to be disciples themselves, knowledgeable of fundamental truth and willing to come alongside people to lead them to maturity. The Alongsider’s method can be practiced in informal sittings, such as coffee shops and livingrooms, with one or two others, using the Bible and simple discipleship tools which can be obtained from NavPress. I appreciated the overall concept of the Alongsider approach. Too frequently Christians shun discipling others because they don’t know what to do, feel inadequate, or lack skills. The…

Life Before Death A restored Regenerated and Renewed Life By Ian Leitch (Larkspur, CO: Grace Acres Press, 2007) 133 pp. + XXVI, Paper $14.95

Ian Leitch is an evangelist from Scotland who has ministered extensively in the UK and the US. His book, Life Before Death, takes the reader from pre-conversion to mature discipleship in a clear, readable and engaging manner. The book is loaded with stories and illustrations that aid in understanding his points. Leitch writes in a folksy style that might be winsome to some and irritating to others (place me in the middle), but gives the reader the impression that he is a likeable Christian who is passionate about what he believes. Leitch has been heavily influenced by the Keswick Higher Life Movement (pp. XXI, 34, 118, 129). While most of the book is straight, clear biblical teaching on conversion and spiritual growth, Keswick theology shows up on occasion in out of balanced statements such as, “For years I was told that I had to live for Jesus. That’s wrong: He…

Evangelical Feminism A New Path To Liberalism?, By Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006) 272 pp., Paper $10.99

Wayne Grudem is perhaps the most prolific evangelical author today writing in defense of the biblical roles of men and women in the church and in the home, known as complementarism. His thesis in this particular volume is that evangelical feminism (egalitarianism) has become a new path by which evangelicals are being drawn into theological liberalism (pp. 15, 17), because it undermines the authority of Scripture (p. 261). This thesis is repeated in virtually every one of the 36 chapters. The strength of this particular work is responding with solid biblical answers to the common equalitarian attacks on the traditional understanding of the biblical roles of women. These attacks, which began among evangelicals only in 1974 (p. 43), include: Accusations that portions of Scripture are wrong (pp. 33-52) Trajectory hermeneutics which claim modern developments in culture trump Scripture (pp. 53-80) “Cherry picking” favorite verses while ignoring others (pp. 81-102) Parachurch…

If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley, One Man’s Journey, by Robert B. Somerville (Santa Clarita, CA: Xulon Press, 2014), 243 pp., Paper $14.39

Robert Somerville is a professor of Biblical Counseling at the Master’s College as well as a fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counseling. He has counseled hundreds and taught many others how to apply Scripture to life’s problems for decades. Such people are not supposed to get depressed, but Dr. Somerville did—severe, clinical depression. This book describes his journey through what he calls his “dark night of the soul” (pp. 17, 197) (This is an unfortunate term that some are using today to describe depression. Actually it originates with St. John of the Cross, in his book by this title, as the first step toward mystical union with God, known commonly as purgation). But this work does more than describe a man’s journey; it also offers extremely helpful insight and biblically accurate means of dealing with depression. Each of Somerville’s ten chapters opens with a Puritan prayer and ends…

Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life (Revised and Updated) by Donald S. Whitney (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014)

In 1991 Donald Whitney wrote Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life. I have written a lengthy review of this book, which you will find following the review of the present book. The revised edition is essentially the same with the following differences: more content with an additional 10,000 words and some reformatting (see especially the section on meditation, pp. 56-68), more gospel material woven into each chapter, the removal of quotations from spiritual formation leaders such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard (although he uses the same foreword by J. I. Packer praising Foster), and upgrading cultural and technological references. Whitney wants to distinguish himself from the spiritual formation movement leaders and, in fact, his work is very different from theirs. While he often speaks of certain actions as spiritual disciplines (see p. 160), at other times he is talking about the need to discipline oneself for the purpose of…

Which Bible Translation Should I Use, A Comparison of Four Major Recent Versions Ed. Andreas J. Kӧstenberger and David A. Croteau (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2012), 204 pp., paper $14.99

Which Bible Translation Should I Use? is a comparison of four recent and popular translations of the Bible. Each translation is explained, defended and promoted by a scholar who was on the translation team of the respective translations: English Standard Version (ESV) – Wayne Grudem; New International 2011 (NIV) – Douglas Moo; Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) – E. Ray Clendenen; and New Living Translation (NLT) – Philip Comfort. Each author not only explains the translation philosophy behind the version he supports, as well as its unique features, but also interacts with the same 16 passages from Scripture. These biblical selections were strategically chosen because they demonstrate well how the translations differ and why. Important discussions are therefore given on gender neutral differences, the ending of Mark’s Gospel and the translations and meaning of such vital texts as Luke 17:3, John 1:18, Romans 3:25, 1 Timothy 2:12, John 1:18 and…

Messiah’s Coming Temple, Ezekiel’s Prophetic Vision of the Future Temple By John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney (Kregel Publications: 2013) 224 pp., Paperback $12.99

Messiah’s Coming Temple (MCT) is about the future temple which is prophesied in the Bible, particularly in Ezekiel 40-48. Many interpreters of the Bible try to allegorize or “spiritualize” the prophet’s vision of the temple, but Schmitt and Laney take pains to demonstrate the natural reading of the text: a future, physical temple will one day be built in the land of Israel. Interpreters in the dispensational tradition will heartily agree with this thesis, and overall the authors do a good job of “unpacking” the scriptural vision of a future temple. The book is particularly strong in dealing with architectural features of the new temple (one of the authors – John Schmitt – apparently built the first major model of Ezekiel’s temple). I thus learned much about the dimensions, as well as the “look and feel” of the temple described by Ezekiel. MCT contains some very interesting photos and outstanding…

What’s Right with the Church, A Manifesto of Hope by Elmer L. Towns (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 223 pp. Hard $11.99

The church is constantly being criticized by friend and foe. This is not hard to fathom as the church is a big, slow moving, easy target that is flawed because it is made up of flawed people. Much recent criticism is deserved, some is not. Towns has grown weary of those who make it their mission to point out what is wrong with the church, usually to promote their own agendas. George Barna is referenced as one such person (p. 219). As a result Towns wants to pin-point some of the things that are right about the church. He focuses on twelve items, devoting a chapter to each. They include being right about Jesus, the Bible, conversion, sin, family and the Great Commission. Several of these chapters are very encouraging. I also found helpful Towns’ overview of six different worship styles prevalent in America today, complete with their strengths and…

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, by Hannah Whitall Smith (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1952) 248 pp., paper $5.99

Considered a classic by many, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life was written by Hannah Whitall Smith in 1875. Smith was a Quaker at the time but had imbibed the Holiness Movement and the teachings of the so-called Higher Life Movement often associated with the Keswick Convention. Unknown to many of her admirers, both then and now, was the fact that Smith’s personal life was a mess, with serious marital and parental issues. Doctrinally she ultimately moved into universalism and came later to doubt her own Higher Life teachings (see www.PFO.org/hwsmith). As for the book that made Smith a celebrity, it has sold millions of copies and is still popular today, perhaps because of the implied promise in the title. There is much in The Christian’s Secret that is orthodox and biblically sound, but the controlling theme is not. Smith taught a “let-go and let God” form of Christianity…

Conversion in the New Testament, Paul and the Twelve, by Richard V. Peace (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1999) 397 pp. plus XV, paper $33.75

Conversion in the New Testament is an exacting, thorough and valuable study of the conversion experience. Recognizing substantial differences between the sudden conversion of Paul in Acts and the gradual experience of the apostles in the Gospels, Richard Peace seeks to evaluate and harmonize the two. His aim is “to demonstrate that while there is such a phenomenon as Christian conversion and that it has specific characteristics, it occurs in different ways in the lives of different people” (p. 10). Drawing first from the life of Paul, Peace deduces that there are three elements in all conversion experiences: insight, turning and transformation (pp. 25-27, cf. pp. 49-50, 54, 93, 298-307, 346-353). Insight is the “aha” moment when one sees their spiritual condition and need and the truth of the gospel. Turning is a turning from sin and our former beliefs about Christ and a turning to the Lord for salvation…

A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2 (42-89)

In the spirit of full disclosure, this commentary on the Psalms was sent to me by the publisher for review. Since it is a very large volume, and since I am not presently teaching on the Psalms, I hesitated tackling such an undertaking. However, I had only read through the first few chapters before I realized that I had a masterpiece in my hands. I immediately ordered the first volume in this series and am eagerly awaiting the publication of volume three. Ross’s collection will be my go-to commentaries on the Psalms from this point on. Ross carefully analyzes 48 psalms in this volume. For each he supplies his own translation complete with footnotes dealing with the meaning of many of the important Hebrew words as well as textual variants. The translation is followed by a “Composition and Context” section which introduces the main idea of the psalm and attempts…

The Tangible Kingdom, Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008) 195 pp, Hard $17.99

As I progressed through The Tangible Kingdom I kept feeling that I had read this book before and, in a sense, I have. Essentially, I read the same message in 1971 in David Main’s Circle Church, in Girard’s Brethren, Hang Loose in 1972, in Snyder’s The Problem of Wine Skins in 1975, again in Tucker’s The Church Change or Decay in 1978 and Tillapaugh’s The Church Unleashed in 1982 and on and on. More recently the works of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have repeated the same themes, which are basically that the church is a mess, has lost its way and must either change or die. Fortunately for us, so the message goes out, all these authors have discovered the “secret sauce” (as Andy Stanley calls it in his books) and they are here to share the ingredients. Halter and Smay follow this pattern to a tee (see pp.…

Starlight and Time, Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, by D. Russell Humphreys (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1994) 137 pp., paper $5.99

Dr. Humphreys is a young earth physicist who is addressing the question of how the light from stars, many light years away, could be seen from earth if the universe is only a few thousand years old (p. 9). By means of a rather technical discussion of black holes, white holes (pp. 23-28), relativity and gravitational time dilation, among other things, Humphreys believes that clocks tick at different rates in different parts of the universe. “By this effect …God could have made the universe in six ordinary days as measured on earth, while still allowing time for light to travel billions of light-years to reach us by natural means” (p. 54). Using this theory Humphreys is also able to explain from both a biblical and scientific base what happens on each of the six days of creation (pp. 74-80). The book contains three appendices expanding Humphreys’ theories. More recently he…

God in Eclipse, God Has Not Always Been Silent, by John B. Metzger (Keller, TX: J House Publishing: 2013) pp. 227, paper $9.99

John Metzger, missionary and educator with Ariel Ministries, has written God in Eclipse directly to Jewish people “to put into simple language a debunking of the issues surrounding God’s nature” (p. 5). Most Jews have abandoned even Judaism (pp. 13, 19) and rejected Christianity, partly due to mistreatment by Christians throughout the ages. Therefore, Metzger distinguishes true believers and biblical Christianity from the corrupt forms that have too often emerged (e.g., p. 13). But the bulk of the book deals with an analysis of Scripture to demonstrate that the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) clearly teaches the same truths honored by authentic Christians and taught in the New Testament. Some of the highlights include: Demonstrating that the use of Elohim (Elokim) for God shows that God exists in a oneness in plurality, thus allowing for the doctrine of the Trinity (pp. 20-23, 51-60, 69-76. 164-175). That the Angel of the…

Understanding Scripture, An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning, edited by Wayne Grudem, c. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 203 pp., paper $12.99

Understanding Scripture is a helpful volume dealing with the primary issues related to God’s Word. None of the editors contributes to the book but 17 other scholars do. Understanding Scripture is organized around seven parts with two or more chapters within each part. The parts are interpreting, reading, canonicity, reliability of manuscripts, archaeology, and original languages. In addition, the concluding part provides chapters surveying the history of salvation and discussing how the New Testament makes use of the Old Testament. The book offers introductory material on these subjects and is not intended to be exhaustive. Those interested in deeper study of these topics will need to look elsewhere, but Understanding Scripture is a good starting point. Readers will have various areas of interest but for me a highlight was the discussion of the reliability of the biblical manuscripts including the types of textual differences among the manuscripts (pp. 101-117), and…

Fire on the Altar, A History and Evaluation of the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival by Noel Gibbard (Wales, UK: Bryntirion Press, 2005) pp. 244, paper $7.99

Fire on the Altar is a account of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. Gibbard recognizes a number of influences upon the revival including the Keswick Movement in England (pp. 24, 168-169, 190), Holiness theology (p. 108), and the writings of Henry Drummond (pp. 168-169) and Andrew Murray (pp. 26, 34, 168, 172). The precedent set in the 1859 revival, in which preaching shifted from doctrinal to experience, was followed in 1904-1905 as well. The result was what Peter Price, a spiritual leader of that day, saw as two revivals—one of God, the other a sham (pp. 46, 153-154, 192-193). That the Spirit of the Lord was at work in a remarkable way during the revival is challenged by few. But the excesses, strange behavior, and doctrinal errors demonstrate that much of the revival was not of God. For example: Visions, prophecies, trances, claims of seeing the Shekinah Glory (p. 65)…

One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World by Tullian Tchividjian (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013) 236 pp., paper $14.99

Tchividjian is tired and exhausted (pp. 28, 198) and believes that others are too in their attempts to perform up to God’s standards (pp. 20-22, 62, 147). Many, he believes, think that God loves them only if they are changing and growing (pp. 30, 52, 199) and thus they conceive of God’s love as conditional (pp. 30, 52, 199). The author thinks that Jesus came to liberate us from this demand to measure up (p. 36). And since even when we are at our best we do things that need forgiveness (p. 54), our only hope is found in God’s grace. Instead of living by grace most Christians apparently operate on the basis of law, attempting to follow a set of rules to obtain the favor of God. But instead of improving, people get worse when the law is laid down, for law reveals sin but is powerless to remove…

The New Calvinists, Changing the Gospel by E. S. Williams (London: The Wakeman Trust & Belmont House Publishing, 2014), 74 pp., paper $6.84

  As a physician and church leader in the United Kingdom, E. S. Williams examines the “New Calvinists” from a unique perspective. Interestingly the term is seldom used in the UK even though it has “penetrated deeply into the UK evangelical camp” (p. 51). (On a side note, I found the same to be true concerning the Spiritual Formation Movement on a recent visit to Britain. Church leaders were unfamiliar with the title even though the effects of the movement were evident everywhere.) Williams defines New Calvinism as “a growing perspective within conservative evangelicalism that embraces the fundamentals of 16th century Calvinism while also trying to be relevant in the present-day world” (p. 7). However, it is a movement that “has made no attempt to separate from worldliness” (p. 68). This is a fundamental flaw, Williams believes, for, as Peter Masters writes, “You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification”…

Home Improvement, The Parenting Book You Can Read to Your Kids,by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller (Lawrenceville, NJ: Effective Parenting, Inc., 207), 197 pp. paper $12.99

Home Improvement is a highly practical, biblically sound book which provides eight tools for effective parenting. Each chapter develops one of these tools which are: Action point (the point at which a parent takes action) Positive conclusion (“discipline is not complete until the positive relationship between the parent and child is restored” – p. 38) Taking a break (which is different from a “time out” because it focuses on heart change – pp. 57, 195-197) Teaching values Dealing with anger Consistency in discipline Learning from life Dealing with deep-rooted problems and teaching character qualities Each chapter opens with a related story, teaches the appropriate truth and follows with hands-on, practical steps to apply these truths within the home. Each chapter ends with helpful discussion questions for small group studies. Home Improvement is an excellent tool to provide parents understanding in how to apply biblical teachings in child rearing. I think…

Dreams and Visions,Is Jesus awakening the Muslim World?,by Tom Doyle with Greg Webster (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012) 270 pp., paper, $15.99

Tom Doyle is a missionary in the Middle East and Central Asia and attended both the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and Dallas Theological Seminary (p. 133). Dreams and Visions is endorsed by the likes of Anne Graham Lotz, Charles Dyer and Janet Parshall. The argument of the book is that Jesus is presenting Himself, via dreams and visions, to Muslims throughout the globe (including America – pp. 238-239) in order to draw them to Himself. Doyle believes this is the most important movement of God in our time (p. 8). Why dreams? The author suggests a number of possibilities: The Muslim religion was started by a dream to Muhammad and dreams are part of the culture in Middle Eastern countries. They were used supposedly by the gods in the region to reveal their wills; dreams are an accepted form of communication by the Muslims (p. 130). Muslims have believed…

What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About, a Survey of Jesus’ Bible, Gen. Ed., Jason S. DeRouchie (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2013; 496 pp., Hard $30.99

Jason De Rouchie and 16 other contributors have joined forces to provide the church this truly unique and marvelous volume overviewing the message of the Old Testament (there is a companion New Testament Volume – What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About). In the preface DeRouchie tells us that the book is not about: A history of Israelite religion A summary of the events of history A synthesis of the sources behind the text A review of characters in the text A theology of the Hebrew Bible on its own A systematic theology A reflection of the reader “Rather, following the arrangement of the Jewish canon, this survey attempts to present the essence of what is revealed in the Old Testament, with a conscious eye toward the fulfillment found in Jesus as clarified in the New Testament.” The book is targeted toward Bible college, seminary students and local churches…

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism, Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013) 223 pp., paper $7.99

Gregory Thornbury, former professor of philosophy at Union University and now president of the King’s College, believes that the era of classical evangelicalism, represented by Francis Schaeffer, J. I. Packer, John R. W. Stott and most pronounced, Carl Henry, is quickly slipping away. He fears that “perhaps the evangelicalism I ‘signed up for’ is gone forever. Worse yet, perhaps it never even existed” (p. 32). In fact, many leading theologians today see classical evangelicalism and Henry, its main intellectual promoter, as relics of a bygone era (pp. 11, 21, 30). Thornbury hopes to reverse this view by reintroducing Henry to a generation that has marginalized him. This is necessary partly because even Henry’s fans find him almost incomprehensible. As Millard Erickson quipped about Henry’s work, “I hope someday that it is translated into English” (p. 24). The author attempts to do just that by, in essence, paraphrasing his second and…

Becoming Myself, Embracing God’s Dream for You,by Stasi Eldredge (Colorado Springs: Colorado, 2013), 253 pp., hard $11.99

Stasi Eldredge, conference speaker, author of numerous books that have sold in the millions, wife of author John Eldredge and co-leader with her husband of their ministry “Ransomed Heart,” writes Becoming Myself for Christian women. Eldredge is an engaging writer and knows how to identify with women. As seems common today among many women authors she showcases her misery and deep struggles. She often mentions her battle with weight (pp. 12-13, 39, 41), appearance (pp. 68, 91), lack of feeling accepted (pp. 20-21, 54, 74-76), and loneliness (p. 149). As a matter of fact, “Very few of us had the kind of preparation God intended us to have so that we might grow up into confident, resilient, loving women” (p. 79). Becoming Myself is Eldredge’s attempt to move toward solving this problem. She is at her best when she occasionally turns her readers toward Christ as the only one in…

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts,by Douglas Bond, edited by Steven Lawson (Sanford, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, Reformation Trust Publishing: 2013) 164 pp., hardcover $11.99; ebook, 145 pp., $7.20

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is the first book I have read in the “A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles” series, edited by Steven Lawson. Others in the series so far are books on Calvin, Edwards, Knox, Spurgeon and Luther and, if they are anything like this one, they will be a joy to read. The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is part biography, part theology and part explanation of Watt’s lasting legacy as the “father of modern hymnology.” Most of Watts’ hymns were written to go with his sermons (p. 41); as a matter of fact his hymns have been called rhymed sermons (p. 46). Some have even credited Watts with bringing singing back to English-speaking churches (p. 57). Of course, when he introduced hymns to a Christian world in which many believed that singing anything but the Psalms was unbiblical he drew ample criticism. It was…

Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth, gen. ed., James Macdonald; managing eds., Bob Kellemen & Steve Viars. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2013, 445 pp., $29.99, hardback.

When I first heard about Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling I was not too excited. The list of contributing authors was vast, most of them I had never heard of, and most importantly, some of the contributing authors are associated with groups that are of concern to many in the area of the sufficiency of Scripture. Even so, I tried to approach the book objectively. There are godly men whom I have a great deal of love and respect for who have joined the BCC, and who are included in the long list of authors. Though I still have some concerns with the BCC, I trust the discernment of my friends who support the BCC and have contributed to this work. The BCC has created a sound doctrinal statement and a wonderful confessional statement that all members must sign in agreement to. While it is true in today’s world that people sign…

Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 350 pp., Hardcover $24.99

Endorsed by everyone from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels to Dave Ramsey, Steven Furtick and Jeff Foxworthy, Deep and Wide reveals Andy Stanley’s “secret sauce” (p. 17) which he believes makes his church not only great but a model others should adopt. Stanley’s goal has been to create a church that unchurched men, women and children love to attend (p. 11) and by all accounts he has succeeded. The first of five sections tells the story of the birth of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, first as an extension of his father’s (Charles) church, then as a split, in which several thousand people eventually left the mother church to join Andy’s. Andy knows this is not the best way to start a church, but is honest and transparent enough to admit that this is what happened. Conflicts with his famous father were inevitable and Andy chronicles those as…

The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ,by Yusufu Turaki, (Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers Limited, 2006), 127 pp., paper $8.99

I was first introduced to Turaki via his marvelous little book, Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview, a book that is a must read for anyone engaged in African ministry. Turaki, an African theologian and professor of theology and social ethics, in The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ has written a concise, compact Christology applicable for anyone, but especially geared for the African church. Turaki states that the purpose of his book “is to develop a biblical basis and foundation for presenting and proclaiming Jesus the Messiah as the only valid, authentic and unique Saviour of the whole world and the Mediator between God and man” (p. 5). Turaki then organizes his book by chapter around Jesus as the Messiah, as the Christ, as Mediator and as Redeemer. He also writes concerning the ingredients of salvation, the mission of the church, Christianity in the midst of cultural and religious plurality,…

It’s OK to Say God,Prelude to a Constitutional Renaissance,by Tad Armstrong (Bloomington, Indiana: Westbow Press, 2011), 350 pp. + xiii, paper $25.00

Tad Armstrong, an attorney and founder of ELL Constitution Clubs, established to provide a forum for lay people to study the actually pronouncements of the United States Supreme Court, has a deep concern. He believes that most people, including Christians, are ignorant of the actual rulings of the Supreme Court, especially as they touch our freedoms of religion and speech as expressed the First and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution (p. ix). As a result, many of us not only believe but also spread half-truths and outright lies, causing unnecessary anxiety and distrust of our government. The only solution, Armstrong believes, is to become educated by reading the actual words of the Court’s rulings and correcting those who do not know the truth. The author writes, It is my contention that, once Christians have the facts in tow, most of the unwarranted skirmishes will cease and the real battles for…

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 162pp, paper, $16.99).

The movie Heaven is for Real opened in theaters on Wednesday, April 16 taking second place in the movie boxoffice for the week. This has renewed interest in the book which had already sold over eight million copies prior to the movie. Heaven is for Real is based on the 2010 best-selling book of the same title, which has moved back to the top of the New York Times bestseller list at #2 in in the “combined print and e-book nonfiction” category and #1 in the “paperback nonfiction” category. On Amazon.com, the Kindle version of the book is at #1 in the “Eschatology” category and #1 in the “inspirational” category. For the paperback version, Amazon.com has it at #2 in “Eschatology,” #4 in “Christian Living,” and #4 in “Religion and Spirituality.” These are astounding numbers for a book that has been on the market this long. The description for the…

Engaging with Keller, Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical,Ed. By Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer (Darington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), 240 pp., paper $14.39

One of the most creative and influential pastors, theologians and thinkers in the evangelical church today is Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a prolific author. The six contributors to this volume all admire Keller, share his Presbyterian background and theology, yet believe some of Keller’s doctrines and practices fall short of biblical teachings. Keller is trying to package Christianity for the “contemporary unchurched and largely postmodern audience” (p. 21), yet at the same time maintain orthodoxy. This is a different endeavor and these men believe that Keller often falls short of his goal. One general concern is that Keller adopts a twofold answer to many questions. For the traditional modernist he provides standard orthodox theology, but for the postmodern audience he supplies a different approach and set of answers (p. 21). It is the second set of answers that have these authors concerned.…

Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, by Faith Cook (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press: 2005), 400 pp., paper $10.99

The stories behind our Christian hymns and the lives of the hymn writers have long fascinated me. Our Hymn Writers is perhaps the finest book I have read on this topic. Faith Cook has carefully researched her subject and provided her reader with a wealth of information which will not only enlighten but encourage the child of God. Cook begins with a chapter of short clips dealing with hymn writers in ancient times, such as Ambrose, Luther, Milton and Baxter. The final two chapters are similar in that she briefly details the lives and works of lesser known and more recent writers of Christian verse. The other thirteen chapters each describe in more detail the lives and hymns of one individual. These include: Watts, Newton, Cowper, Montgomery, Lyte, Bonan, Havergal and Crosby. Unlike most Christian songs being written today, many of the hymns of the past were written due to…

Recovering the Reformed Confession, Our Theology Piety and Practice, by R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2008), 362 pp. paper $25.00

As a professor of church history and historical theology at Westminister Seminary California, in addition to being a pastor of a Reformed church, R. Scott Clark is highly knowledgeable of Reformed history, theology and practice. He believes there are some important problems in today’s Reformed churches (p. 1), for they have lost their identity because of two alien impulses (p. 36). First is the quest for “illegitimate religious certainty” (p. 39). Chapter two is devoted to this subject and we find listed the creation debate and theonomy as examples. Chapter three is concerned with the second impulse: the “quest for illegitimate religious experience” such as mysticism, pietism and revivalism. Clark sees both Martin Lloyd-Jones and Jonathan Edwards as promoters of this latter alien impulse (pp. 80-112). Clark is championing confessional Protestantism. Thus, he is negative on pure biblicism in which the Christian looks to Scripture as his only authority (pp.…

Vertical Church, What Every Heart Longs for, What Every Church Can Be, by James MacDonald (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 320 pp., Hard, $22.99

James MacDonald is the well-known pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, a megachurch near Chicago. Harvest’s church planting ministry has founded numerous Harvest Bible Chapel churches throughout the United States and Canada. MacDonald writes this book to encourage churches to return to a vertical focus on Christ and His glory which he thinks most churches have abandoned. The author believes the local church should be built on four pillars: proclaiming the authority of God’s Word without apology, lifting high the name of Jesus through worship, believing firmly in the power of prayer, and sharing the good news of Jesus with boldness. Concerning worship MacDonald mocks what he calls “shoulder-up” worship and calls for “whole-person,” enthusiastic, loud worship (p. 173). He often claims Harvest’s worship services are “window-rattling, earth-shaking, life-altering experiences” (pp. 112, 186, 303), and that people line up outside and run down aisles because God is going to meet them…

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics, a Guide for Evangelicals, Ed. by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2013), 325 pp. paper $17.99

Fifteen scholars teamed up to produce this book which has as its goal “to create readers who are able to read theologically, historically, practically and spiritually for the glory of God” (p. 12). While all the authors would claim to be evangelical Protestants, all are sympathetic and supportive of classical Christian mysticism and spiritual formation spirituality as found in what they consider the ancient classics. Carl Trueman (Dean of Westminster Theology Seminary) endorsed this approach saying, “I think the medieval mystics should form a staple of the literary diet of all thoughtful Christians” (p. 9). And the editors look to and praise Richard Foster claiming he “was recovering a well-worn path of ancient wisdom that helped to defend evangelicalism itself” (p. 10). I decided to read this work after finding a very favorable review on The Gospel Coalition’s website by Nathan Finn, a professor of historical theology and Baptist studies…

The New Calvinism Considered by Jeremy Walker (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013) 126 pp., paper $7.99

In barely over 100 pages of reading text, Jeremy Walker, a particular (Calvinistic) Baptist pastor from England, has provided an excellent, irenic, but critical, overview of New Calvinism. The author defines New Calvinism as “the resurgence of certain central aspects of Calvinistic doctrine within conservative evangelicalism, though it is usually associated with other convictions and actions that do not immediately derive from the teaching and example of John Calvin and others of similar faith and life” (pp. 8-9). Others have described the New Calvinists as Reformed Charismatics or “Young Restless and Reformed.” It is a highly influential movement, especially among young adults. Walker is trying to demonstrate both the positive and the concerning aspects of this movement, and he does an excellent job at both. While admitting that new Calvinism is not monolithic (p. 17), Walker nevertheless offers five characteristics that are typical: a belief in the sovereignty of God…

Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 382 pp., hard $15.99

Jesus Calling and its many sequels and other products such as Dear Jesus, Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, Jesus Lives, Jesus Calling (Devotional for Children), Jesus Today, Jesus Calling for Teens,and Jesus Calling (Bible Storybook), are among the bestselling books in the world today. Young is offering people something they want to hear which is that they can experience the very presence of Jesus and Jesus will speak to them personally. The subtitle of the book is well chosen, for in this daily devotional the word “Presence” [of God or Jesus] is found over 400 times and the word “Peace” approximately 155 times, with synonyms such as rest and joy common place. Noteworthy is that both words are always capitalized signifying that apparently Young views Presence and Peace as God Himself, or at least representative of God. As one might imagine, the devotionals are highly redundant. If you read any ten,…

A Shelter in the Time of Storm and Whiter Than Snow, By Paul David Tripp

A Shelter in the Time of Storm, Meditations on God and Trouble, by Paul David Tripp (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009), 159 pp., paper $12.99 Whiter Than Snow, Meditations on Sin and Mercy, by Paul David Tripp (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 154 pp., paper $9.99 These companion volumes are devotional meditations based on the Psalms. A Shelter in the Time of Storm draws all 52 meditations from Psalm 27 while Whiter Than Snow examines Psalm 51 in its 52 meditations. Tripp’s insights are valuable and as devotional material these books are outstanding. His approach to these Psalms is different from most and is worth mentioning. Neither book is an exegetical commentary on the two Psalms. As the author explains, “I have approached the Psalm[s] like a wood butcher. The wood butcher cuts in a log, looking for boards with a particularly interesting or elegant grain, and cuts them out like a…

Against the Gods, The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament,by John D. Currid, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 153 pp., paper $17.99

One of the strongest criticisms facing biblical Christianity today is that much of Scripture, especially Old Testament stories, is borrowed from ancient accounts found in pagan mythologies. Since there are numerous narratives within ancient Near East studies that are very similar to biblical stories (e.g. creation, the flood, the exodus), it is now accepted by secular and liberal scholarship that the authors of Scripture merely borrowed these myths and invented a Jewish monotheistic storyline (pp. 22-23). In other words, biblical accounts of those stories are just as mythical as pagan accounts. Many evangelical scholars are drifting in this general direction as well, claiming that the Old Testament stories are “firmly rooted in the worldview of its time” (p. 23 – Peter Enns). As a result John Walton states, “The early accounts of Genesis are ‘culturally descriptive rather than revealed truth.’” This leads Currid to conclude, “Many evangelical Old Testament scholars…

Men Counseling Men, A Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Men Face, General Editor John D. Street (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2013), 442 pp., paper $19.99

John Street, chair of the graduate program in biblical counseling at the Master’s College, is the general editor of Men Counseling Men. Twenty-two authors contributed a chapter each on various subjects pertinent to Christian men. Most, if not all, of the contributors have or are pursuing a master’s degree in biblical counseling (MABC) from Master’s College. As might be expected there is a unified understanding among the authors that men’s real problems stem from sin which must be dealt with forcefully through the appropriate use of the all-sufficient Word of God. Most chapters apply the normal methodology found within the biblical counseling movement, which is the put off/put on/renewal-of-the-mind principle. This approach, drawn from the epistles, especially Ephesians and Colossians, teaches one to put off sinful habits, replace them with biblical habits and virtues, and renew the way one thinks through careful study and application of Scripture. This volume is…

The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, by Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 714 pp., hard $44.99

Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary, has written what in many ways is a marvelous biblical theology. Biblical theology differs from systematic theology in its approach and purpose. In systematics one is seeking to organize all of Scripture around key doctrinal subjects, such as the Godhead, salvation and Scripture. Biblical theology follows the historical timeline and wraps itself around a common theme, seeking to unwrap each biblical author’s contribution to that theme. Schreiner believes the “kingdom of God” is the unifying theme that pulls together all the books of the Bible (p. xii), “Scripture unfolds the story of the kingdom and God’s glory is the reason for the story” (p. xiii). Schreiner’s definition of the kingdom of God is important as might be discerned. The author offers three components that comprise the kingdom: the rule of God, those being ruled [people], and a realm [the universe]…

Strange Fire: the Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship,by John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 331 pp., Hard $22.99

John MacArthur has long been concerned about the dangers of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Over twenty years ago he wrote Charismatic Chaos which documented many of the excesses of the movement. The major criticism at the time of MacArthur’s position was that he painted too broadly and thus lumped those on the lunatic fringe of charismania with those who were substantially more biblically sound. The fringe crowd, after all, composed a small minority of the total Pentecostal/Charismatic family. Whatever MacArthur’s critics might think of Strange Fire, they can no longer claim that the extreme Charismatics are either the minority or unusual. The fastest growing, and most visible, segments of the movement are those formerly identified as fringe. There are still many doctrinally sound Charismatics within Christendom today and MacArthur takes great pains to say so (pp. 81-82). But the extremists are everywhere and growing rapidly. In addition there are…

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism by Michael John Beasley, (The Armory Ministries: 2013), e-book available from Amazon, 198 pp., $.99.

It has been well over two decades since Wayne Grudem wrote his ground breaking book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, which attempted to give theological legitimacy to common practices found especially in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. Those practices had to do with the so-called “sign gifts” of miracles, healings, tongues and prophecy. Grudem’s burden focused almost entirely on prophecy and words of knowledge. Pentecostals and charismatics have long claimed extrabiblical words, visions and prophecies that came via direct communication from the Holy Spirit. But it was common knowledge that many, if not most, of those supposed revelations were inaccurate in whole or in part. The Old Testament had condemned fallible prophets to death (Deut 13, 18) so obviously this was a serious issue to God. If this seriousness was carried over to the New Testament era what was to be done with those who claimed…

My Dream of Heaven, by Rebecca Ruter Springer (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Harrison House, 1898, 2002), 179 pp., Hard , $9.62

During the latter half of the nineteenth-century, due in part to the tremendous loss of life during the Civil War as well as the encroachment of German rationalism and interest in spiritism, many were struggling with questions and doubts concerning the afterlife. In response a number of books were written, some based on Scripture, others on supposed dreams and visions, to provide answers about heaven. Springer’s book, originally entitled Intra Muros, was among the latter, but has distinguished itself by being published and read over a hundred years later, while most of the others disappeared rather quickly. Springer takes pains to make clear that her near-death experience was not inspired by God and carries no divine authority (pp. 155-157). Still, much like today’s near-death accounts, she believes her supposed trip to heaven will offer valuable insight into eternity and give hope to the reader. However her revelation is riddled with…

Unmasking the Antichrist, Dispelling the Myths, Discovering the Truth by Ron Rhodes (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2001), 244 pp. paper $13.99.

Ron Rhodes, president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, has written a solid book, from a dispensational understanding of end times, with particular focus on the antichrist. Rhodes covers a lot of ground in this very readable volume including: · An overview of various views concerning the antichrist (chapters 2, 5-7). · Historical identifications of the antichrist (chapter 3). · Discussion of who or what the restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2 is (chapter 9). · The character, names and titles of the antichrist (chapters 11-12). · The antichrist’s role and function (chapters 13-14, 16). · The false prophet (chapter 15). · The mark of the beast (chapter 17). · And the final destiny of the antichrist (chapter 18). While Unmasking the Antichrist is obviously centered around the antichrist, along the way Rhodes is also providing a helpful understanding of end time events, especially those involving the Tribulation period in which…

Church History: An Essential Guide, by Justo L. Gonzalez (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996); 95 pp., paper $12.00

Church History is a short overview of the history of the church designed to give believers a glimpse of the essential events related to the church since its beginning. The author begins with an eleven page introduction that maps out the highlights of various stages of church history, then uses individual chapters to fill in the details. Gonzalez has broken church history into nine periods: the Ancient Church, the Christian Empire, the Early Middle Ages, the High Point of the Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages, Conquest and Reformation, the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, the Nineteenth Century, the Twentieth Century and the End of Modernity. The periods are a bit arbitrary, and other historians recognize different stages, but what Gonzalez offers is helpful and gives him good handles to explain the development of the church over the last two millennia. It should be noted that since the book was published…

The Trellis and the Vine, The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (Australia: St Matthias Press, 2009) 202 pp., paper $9.99

The Trellis and the Vine is an excellent resource, not only concerning the importance of concentrated discipleship efforts in the church but also for ideas, methods and the practical “how to” in developing disciples. The authors see the church’s mission as “a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple” (p. 13). The thesis of the book could be stated this way: We will be arguing that structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines, and that most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ (p. 17). The authors further flesh their thesis out in comments such as these: The first is that the growth of the gospel happens in the lives of people, not in the structures of my church. Or to put it…

Finding the Balance in World Missions, by Steven E. Ray (Steven Ray: 2012) 130 pp., paper $14.95

Steven Ray, founder and director of Messiah Missions, seeks to offer a biblical balance to the ever changing world of missions. I believe in many ways he succeeds. He first, and rightly, deals with evangelism, offering clear insights and analysis of various evangelistic approaches (pp. 13-26). He shows the dangers of syncretism (combining Christianity with other religions) which is becoming more acceptable in evangelism today (pp. 37-42). And Ray deals extremely well with the social gospel and compassion ministries (pp. 43-68), showing that social concern should be a natural fruit of the gospel but it is not the gospel (p. 46). The author also gives a valuable understanding of and need for the indigenous church (pp. 109-122). In all these areas, I believe Ray offers much that needs to be contemplated and digested by all interested in missions—home and abroad. Unfortunately, I believe he stumbles in some matters. He takes…

Revelation, by Alun Ebenezer (Darlington England: Evangelical Press, 2012) 224 pp., paper $15.29

In a back cover endorsement, Alistair Begg recommends first reading the introduction and the conclusion of this little commentary on Revelation. Good advice for, by doing so the reader will understand the author’s approach to interpreting this important New Testament book. Ebenezer clearly lays out the four major approaches to its interpretation: preterist, futurist, historicist and idealist (pp. 215-218). He also offers a short overview of positions held by postmillennial, premillennial and amillennial theologians (pp. 218-221). Ebenezer identifies himself as an amillennialist (p. 221) and, thus, aligns himself most closely to the idealist method which sees Revelation dealing with principles in which God has governed the earth throughout history. However, he believes elements of all four approaches are necessary. He writes: Revelation was written to seven specific churches at a specific time in history to help them in their situation, but is also intended for the church throughout time. The…

How to Protect Your Child from the New Age and Spiritual Deception,by Berit Kjos (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2013) 328 pp., paper $12.00

This is an updated and expanded rework of Kjos’s 1990 volume Your Child and the New Age. Twenty-three years ago Kjos was warning of the infiltration of New Age mysticism and other corrupting influences into our schools, society, churches and homes. Things have gotten considerably more complicated in the last two decades and certainly none of these influences have abated. Kjos’s documents the near saturation of secularism, mysticism, occultism and unbiblical worldviews in everything from schools to music to literature to the church. So prevalent are these demonic influences, as Kjos demonstrates, that one feels helpless to guard against them. Nevertheless, after each chapter showing the dangers of a particular concern is another chapter giving specifics on how to guard our children. These chapters are usually shorter, specific and often centered around putting on the armor of God (see pp. 19-22). The author is correct when she writes, “Unless we…

Growing in Christ, by Jim Cymbala. John Ortberg, Gary Thomas, Rick Warren and Mike Yaconelli (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2003) 141 pp., paper $12.99

Growing in Christ is a collage of five of “today’s top Christian authors discuss[ing] spiritual disciplines for everyday life” (cover). Chapters from works previously written by these five men compose the content of the book. For reviews of these authors and their books see our website: www.svchapel.org In general, while there are a number of helpful insights in Growing in Christ, it is a mixed bag at best. As the spiritual disciplines description implies, the “spiritual masters” these authors repeatedly point to and quote are the “Christian” mystics both past and present. Perhaps most revealing is John Ortberg quoting Richard Foster and none other than Carl Jung, not in a passing way but as the basis of his whole chapter on the unhurried life (p. 51). Also, Yaconelli’s two chapters on what a mess he is spiritually, disguised as being relative, is both depressing and unbiblical. This is a book…

The Old Evangelicalism, Old Truth for a New Awakening, by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 2005, 226 pp., $19.50

Iain Murray is one of the finest conservative church historians and theologians writing today. He warns early of the danger of romanticizing some period in church history (p. 3). But without question he sees a time, from the Puritans to Spurgeon, in which truth and holiness play a far more dominate role in the church. For Murray “old evangelicalism” is early Reformed Christianity, with the Puritans at the zenith. As such, this book is filled with many excellent quotes and insights from this particular era and theological emphasis. Murray is clear about his Reformed views, championing limited atonement (pp. 106-107, 132), regeneration before faith (pp. 18, 45, 56-57, 62), election (pp. 126) and the necessity of the Law for sanctification (pp. 52-54, 91). Yet he brings balance to these views by curbing the extreme ideas often found in some forms of Calvinism. For example, Murray makes clear that God does…

Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan (New York: Random House, 2013), 216 pp. plus xxxiv, cloth $27.00

For some inexplicable reason Zealot has become a best-selling sensation, yet there is absolutely nothing new or profound revealed in the book. Zealot is merely warmed up, liberal theology that has been around since German rationalism and higher criticism of the 18th century. It is the same poor scholarship and skepticism that infiltrated the major American denominations toward the end of the 19th century and resulted in the doctrinal deconstruction of much of Protestant Christianity in the early 20th century. Today such denominations, no longer having a unique reason to exist, are in deep decline, although with the appearance of the emergent church in the early 21st century some of its doctrine and emphasis have become fashionable again. The thesis driving Zealot is that there is a massive divide between the Jesus of the Gospels (the Christ) and the historic Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth). The Jesus of the New Testament…

The Jewish Gospels, the Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin (New York: The New Press, 2012), 160 pp., cloth $21.95.

Daniel Boyarin is the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the world’s leading Talmud scholars. In The Jewish Gospels Boyarin challenges how most modern Jewish theologians have interpreted the New Testament Gospels and Jesus Himself. He examines the Old Testament prophecies, New Testament narratives and Jewish extra-biblical literature such as First Enoch and Fourth Ezra and reaches some startling conclusions, considering they come from a highly respected Jewish rabbical scholar. Boyarin concludes: · The idea of a Trinity or at least a second member of the Godhead has been present among Jewish believers long before the coming of Jesus (pp. XVII, 5, 44, 56, 72, 102, 128, 132, 142, 158-160). · The big distinction between Judaism and Christianity did not take place until the Council of Nicaea (pp. 1, 13-15). Some Old Testament Jews believed that the Messiah, who would…

Surviving Shattered Dreams, a Story of Hope after Despair by Yvonne Partyka and Joanne Klinger, (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing: 2009), 133 pp., paper $16.95

Many who enter pastoral ministry do so with romantic and idealistic dreams that defy reality. The pressure of ministry can lead to tragic ends if responded to incorrectly. Both Partyka and Klinger experienced the shattered dreams as wives of pastors who gave into temptations which ultimately led to divorce. Along the way these men were unfaithful, abused their daughters and yet continued the façade of godly pastors and perfect home lives until all came crashing down. Beside telling two interesting if terribly sad stories, Surviving Shattered Dreams serves notice that all is not as it seems in the family life of clergy. Good marriages do not just happen because people are in the ministry. In fact, the added expectations, temptations and tensions faced by ministers of the gospel make good marriages and family life all that more difficult. Young couples entering ministry should be made aware of this and these…

Be Careful How You Listen, How to Get the Most Out of a Sermon by Jay Adams, ( Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 160 pp., paper $11.99

This book was originally published in 1991 under the title A Consumer’s Guide to Preaching. Since there are many books dealing with how to preach but few on how to listen to preaching, Adams decided to republish the book for a new audience. Adams states, “I have written this book because of the dearth of material devoted to genuine concern for preaching from the listener’s point of view. So far as I know, there is no other book like it” (p. 9). While a few others now exist (see my reviews on Expository Listening and The Family at Church), this little book is very helpful. Adams’ writings are always biblically based and practical. Be Careful How You Listen is no exception. The author deals with preparation for listening, the listener’s attitude and expectations, how to analyze a sermon, the various types of sermons, discernment, and even how to handle a…

The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, by Bruce Ware (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). 156 PP., Paper $15.99

Dr. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a doctrinally solid yet thoroughly readable treatise on the humanity of Jesus Christ. While Jesus’ divine and human natures cannot actually be separated, nor does Ware try to do so, nevertheless he does attempt to show how Jesus’ humanity functioned within the person of Christ and why it was/is necessary for our Lord to possess both divine and human natures in one person. As might be imagined this is no easy task and few theologians could have pulled off what Ware has done. And he does so exceptionally well. Ware states his thesis as such, “I want to present here some of the evidence from Old and New Testaments that the human life of Jesus is real and to show how important it is that He lived our life in order to die our death…

Jesus Is_________, Find a New Way to Be Human,by Judah Smith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 202 pp., paper $16.99

Judah Smith and his wife Chelsea are lead pastors of the Citi Church in Seattle, Washington, and rising stars within the evangelical community. Jesus Is_______ has been on the New York Times Bestseller’s List and is endorsed by an interesting number of Christian leaders including the controversial Steven Furtick, pastors from Hillsong Church in New York City, Tommy Barnett, Matthew Barnett (the founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center), bizarre pastor Ed Young, golfer Bubba Watson and the stylist for Justin Bieber. Bieber calls Smith his pastor. Smith was a featured speaker at Lou Giggio’s 2013 Passion Conference, along with Beth Moore and John Piper, where he spoke to 60,000 young people under the age of 25. The book Jesus Is _________ is part of a large campaign of billboards, bus signs, Facebook apps, bumper magnets and social outreach events in the Seattle area. The idea behind the project was…

Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth, Gen. Ed.James MacDonald; managing ed. Bob Kellermen & Steve Viars

When I first heard about Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling I was not excited. The list of contributing authors was long and most of them I had never heard of. More importantly, some of the contributing authors are associated with groups that are of concern to many in the area of the sufficiency of Scripture. Even so, I tried to approach the book objectively. There are godly men for whom I have love and respect who have joined the Biblical Counsel Coalition (BCC) and are included in the long list of authors. Though I still have some concerns with the BCC, I trust the discernment of friends who support the BCC and have contributed to this work. The BCC has created a sound doctrinal statement and an excellent confessional statement that all members must sign. While it is true in today’s world that people sign statements with little or no regard for…

The Masculine Mandate by Richard E. Phillips (ebook)

When a ministry offered this free e-book, I took it up on its offer and found  a good read.  Phillips is a minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.  He is concerned, not only that men in our culture no longer know how to behave as men but also that in attempts to call men back to manliness many have over-reacted and propagated false ideas.   In particular, and correctly, Phillips calls John Eldrich and his “Wild at Heart” ministry to task (loc. 105-130).  Eldrich draws his understanding of masculinity from our culture; Phillips wants to draw his from Scripture.   The stated purpose of The Masculine Mandate is “to provide straight, clear, and pointed teaching on what the Bible says to men as men” (loc. 61).  Based on Genesis 2:15, the so-called Cultural Mandate, Phillips believes masculine living is wrapped around two verbs: work and keep (loc. 141). …

The Family at Church, Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings,by Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 80 pp., paper $5.40.

This book has been recommended by Ken Ramey in his book <em>Expository Listening</em> as a virtual goldmine, but I did not find it so. While there weresome helpful insights and advice, overall it was dated and far too linked to the Reformed traditions to be of significant value to those not in lock-stepwith those traditions. As evidence, in the 66 pages of actual text there were 66 references to Calvin, Spurgeon or the Puritans. There were far morereferences to this group and their opinions than to Scripture, which was often used out of context (see pp. 34, 41). The second half of the volume was devoted to prayer meetings. Here Beeke has in mind primarily the mid-week style of prayer meeting, for which he offersnot only encouragement to have such but even rules for how they are to be conducted (pp. 67-72). While this reviewer believes strongly in corporate prayer,we…

Expository Listening, A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey (Woodland, TX: Kress Biblical Recources: 2010), 127 pp., paper $10.79

The vast majority of books written about preaching are addressed to preachers; only a few target the listeners. This short work is one of those few (see also Jay Adam’s Be Careful How You Listen and Joel Beeke’s A Family at Church). Ramey contends that the condition of the soul is more important than the effectiveness of the sower when it comes to preaching. If so, God’s people should desire to be accomplished hearers of the Word. This little volume will aid in that process. Expository preaching is when “the preacher explains what the original author was saying to the original audience he was writing to and then shows how this original meaning applies to his present–day audience” (p. 55). But in a post-modern age saturated with media that dulls our ears and our minds, this task is challenging at best (see p. 42). If the hearer is to be…

The Same Sex Controversy, Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message about Homosexuality, by James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 254 pp., paper $10.00

The homosexual agenda has rapidly changed the thinking of Western society concerning this vital moral issue. What was considered a disorder by secular psychology just a generation ago is now viewed as natural by the majority of people, and the evangelical community is not immune to this change in perception. It is of utmost importance, therefore, that believers have a good understanding of what the Bible teaches on the subject. This has increasingly become difficult due to numerous “Christian” leaders who have sought to revise what Scripture teaches and what the church has historically believed. These scholars are telling us that we have misunderstood the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality for two millennia, and we now need to conform to modern and popular views on the subject. The Same Sex Controversy was written to challenge the position taken by the revisionists and to provide clear biblical insight into what God has…

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 124 pp., paper $10.00

Dever has written a nicely balanced, easy-to-read, down-to-earth little manual on evangelism that should be of help and encouragement to all who read it. He deals honestly with some of our struggles regarding evangelism and offers tips on improving our evangelistic efforts. The author explains what the gospel is and is not, and the reader will recognize a Reformed soteriology which underlines Dever’s understanding both theologically and practically. Dever’s passion for evangelism is evident and contagious. His readers might just catch some of his fervor. Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

Out of the Blues, Dealing with the Blues of Depression and Loneliness, by Wayne Mack (Bemidji, Minnesota: Focus Publishing, 2006), 143 pp., paper $10.00

Wayne Mack is well known in the biblical counseling world for his solid, practical and thorough insights into the personal problems that Christians face. Out of the Blues is no exception as Mack tackles one of the most common of human difficulties – depression – and provides clear biblical counsel. The author makes distinction among mild, moderate and severe forms of depression (utter hopelessness) (pp. 4-31). He then focuses primarily on severe depression. Mack offers many causes for depression but zeros in on the big three: refusing to deal with sin and guilt (pp. 37-41), mishandling a difficult event (pp. 41-49), and having unbiblical standards (pp. 50-56). He offers solutions for these three causes, first through biblical principles (pp. 61-78), then through biblical examples (pp. 81-94). The author also provides an excellent chapter on loneliness (pp. 95-110), followed by handling practical issues and questions (pp. 111-128) as well as helps…

An Introduction to the New Covenant, General Editor, Christopher Cone (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2013) 375 pp., paper, $27.00.

This volume, authored by six theologians, is an excellent and important entry into the debate concerning the extent and application of the New Covenant. Depending on how it is approached there are up to five views on the church’s relationship to the New Covenant (see pp. 83, 89, 101, and 204). · Replacement—The church is entirely fulfilling the New Covenant. · Partial —The church is partially fulfilling the New Covenant, but complete fulfillment awaits the millennium. · Participation—The church does not even partially fulfill the New Covenant, but does participate in its spiritual blessings now. · Two New Covenants—God has made one New Covenant with Israel and another with the church. · No relationship—The New Covenant was made exclusively with Israel and the church is not directly related to it and is experiencing no spiritual benefits from the New Covenant now. This book defends the “no relationship” position, even though…

Well-Driven Nails, the Power of Finding Your Own Voice, by Byron Forrest Yawn (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2010) 124 pp., cloth $16.99

Byron Yawn, pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN, wrote this little volume to deal with a common struggle for all pastors—delivery (p. 13). Believing that the root problem for most preachers lies in the areas of clarity, simplicity and passion or a combination of all three, Yawn sets out not only to discuss these three obstacles to great preaching, but to provide examples of those who have overcome them and who excel in delivery. Yet Yawn rightly warns that his readers should not attempt to become clones of great preachers. We can learn much from them, but we must find our own voice, that is be ourselves (pp. 28, 37-39). The author selects John MacArthur as his example of clarity. Here is a man who studies at the level of a scholar and communicates at the level of a friend (p. 56). For simplicity Yawn chooses R. C.…

Short-Term Mission, An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience,by Brian M. Howell (Downer Grove: IVP Academic: 2012) 256 pp. paper, $12.00

Short-term missions (STM) is all the rage in Christian, and even secular, environments. The author suggests that over two million Americans per year, many of those teens, take a STM trip, with over 50 percent of Christian college and seminary students having gone on such trips (p. 27). While STM trips can be longer most are “designed to fit into the windows of time North Americans (particularly U.S. Americans) have for vacation travel…typically…a maximum of two weeks” (p. 47). Such trips involve construction projects, medical aid, temporary relief of poverty, work in orphanages, evangelism and discipleship, or a combination of these elements (p. 38). Given the popularity of STM there has been relatively little research and analysis on its effectiveness and value (p. 9). Howell seeks to address this void with this volume. Howell writes from the perspective of a trained anthropologist (he is a professor of anthropology at Wheaton…

Freely By His Grace, Classical Free Grace Theology, Edited by J. B. Hixson, Rick Whitmire, and Roy B. Zuck (Duluth, Minn: Grace Gospel Press, 2012) Hardback, 615 pp., $29.00.

Freely By His Grace is an effort by sixteen pastors and theologians to defend and explain what is commonly called “free grace” soteriology (p. xiii) and related themes. As with any multi-authored volume, this one is uneven in both content and style but is a good representation of the positions taken by the majority within the Free Grace Alliance (p. 343). Still, as Michael Stallard points out, the Free Grace movement is not monolithic and its “members disagree on the nature and role of repentance, the elements necessary for a gospel presentation, how to view good works as evidence of regeneration, and how to interpret various passages about rewards to name a few areas” (p. 343). The authors are universally opposed to the more extreme Free Grace teachings sometimes referred to as the “crossless gospel” (pp. 12-13, 59, 66, 145). This crossless gospel now appears to be the understanding of…

Understanding Spiritual Gifts, a Verse by Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14, by Robert L. Thomas (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978, 1999), 299 pp., paper $10.50

Thomas’ book is a comprehensive commentary on First Corinthians 12-14 with particular focus on the sign gifts. Understanding Spiritual Gifts is extremely thorough, as might be expected from Dr. Thomas, and from any book that contains 62 pages of footnotes, a five page selected bibliography of works cites and scriptural, subject and author indexes. This study is obviously for the serious student, but any reader will be rewarded. The author, as he promises, provides verse-by-verse commentary on these three chapters. In addition, he offers six appendixes dealing with subjects such as descriptions of the spiritual gifts, how to find one’s spiritual gifts, and the ancient tests for New Testament canonicity. But the heart of the volume is Thomas’ argument for cessationism. He demonstrates that the revelatory gifts were signs of authenticity of the apostles and prophets and ceased to function with the completion of the New Testament Scriptures. He deals…

Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, M.D., (Tyndale: 2010). 282 pp., paper $14.99

The subtitle explains what Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist, is attempting to do in this volume: “Surprising connection between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships.” The author believes that life can be transformed by the renewing of your mind that can lead to the wholeness God intends. This includes a new way of understanding and experiencing life with God, using the language of neuroscience and attachment (pp. XVI, 2). With this thesis undergirding Thompson’s approach to renewing the mind, he subsequently offers a variety of ideas, theories and methods to accomplish his goal. They include Scripture, science, psychiatry, spiritual disciplines, exercise, and theology. Sadly, at every turn Thompson’s offerings are questionable at best and completely off-base and unbiblical much of the time. Below is a quick overview: · Science, especially neuroscience: While Thompson is providing the latest research dealing with the brain, he overreaches when he…

Renaissance People, Lives that Shaped the Modern Age by Robert C. Davis and Beth Lindsmith

In this beautiful volume, almost one third of which is reprints of original Renaissance art and portraits, the authors introduce the reader to short biographies of 94 of the most important people of the European Renaissance era (1450-1550). Excellent articles are included on everything from popes to prostitutes, kings to jesters, artists to explorers, Reformation leaders to scientists and much more. Specifically, some of the best known names include: Jan Hus, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus, Erasmus, Machiavelli, Copernicus, Raphael, Thomas More, Luther, Titan, Tyndale, Xavier, Calvin, and St. Teresa of Avila. The Renaissance represents the “cultural rebirth started in the Italian peninsula, where the rediscovery of forgotten Latin letters led to a renewed interest in the Classical study of humanity and its place in the natural world. Its disciples called themselves humanists…[They rejected] superstition and custom for new literature, new science, new societies and, finally, the New World itself” (p.…

Redacted Dominionism, A Biblical Approach to Grounding Environmental Responsibility,by Christopher Cone (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 2012)Paper, pp. 122, $17.00

One of the most controversial issues facing the world, and the church, today is that of environmentalism. Unlike the world which develops its views pragmatically, or politically, or scientifically, or rationally, the church should always begin with the Word of God. What God says should be the reference point from which all other considerations are analyzed. This is exactly what Chris Cone is attempting to do in this book concerning ecological concerns. How the Christian, in particular the evangelical community, should view the environment and handle its various crises ought to emerge from a thorough understanding of what Scripture says on the subject. Cone spends a great deal of time interacting with Lynn White Jr.’s views (see pp.4-9; 27-55), especially a paper written in 1967 entitled, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crises.” White indicts evangelicals as being “a primary culprit for environmental degradation,” primarily because they have accepted a…

Dangerous Calling, Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, by Paul David Tripp (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 227 pp., Hardcover $22.99)

Paul Tripp, who has ministered as a pastor, seminary professor, counselor, conference speaker and author, is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. With this wide range and depth of ministry as a backdrop, Tripp is certainly one who would understand well the dangers of the pastorate. Having talked with thousands of pastors throughout the world, as well as examining his own experience, Tripp knows how easy it is to fall into various traps that can greatly diminish, or even destroy, the servant of God. He has written Dangerous Calling to warn about and evaluate those traps and prescribe a biblical solution. He calls this work a diagnostic book “written to help you take an honest look at yourself in the heart- and life-exposing mirror of the Word of God” (p. 11). More specifically Tripp says…

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible,by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins and Thomas R. Schreiner (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 159 pp., paper $14.99

This little volume, containing thirteen essays by twelve different evangelical scholars, attempts to provide a helpful overview of Scripture, including the events between the Testaments. It identifies unifying themes and follows threads woven throughout the Bible in order to offer the reader a working framework for understanding the texts. Vern Poythress opens with an overview of the Bible storyline, followed by five chapters, by various authors, dealing with the Old Testament. Covered in this first part are the theology of the Old Testament and individual essays on each of the major types of Old Testament literature: the Pentateuch, historical books, poetic and wisdom literature and prophetic books. Part two is devoted to the background of the New Testament, primarily a study of the intertestamental period. Part three provides four chapters on the New Testament, beginning with its theology and offers a chapter each on the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles,…

The Art of Divine Contentment, by Thomas Watson (Gale ECCO publisher, May 2010) 176 pp., paper $16.97 and The Rare Jewel of Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (Lafayette, IN; Sovereign Grace, March, 2001) 108pp, pwper $7.99

For those who might want to wade into the writing of the Puritans, these two small books on contentment might be a good introduction. The books overlap a great deal and, if I had to pick one, I would choose Watson’s, but both authors provide a good flavor of how the Puritans attacked the issues of doctrine. In typical Puritan fashion both Watson and Burroughs are thorough, even exhausting, as they chase down their subject from every possible angle. Their writings are biblically based as they attempt to carefully exegete the Scriptures. They also rely a great deal on logical deduction to supplement what they are drawing directly from Scripture. Since these deductions are tethered to Scripture they are usually reliable, but caution is in order. Watson and Burroughs both examine the causes of discontentment and the excuses for it, means of obtaining contentment, how to know if you are…

The Gospel Commission, Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, by Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Baker Books: 2011), 316 pp. paper $16.99.

Previously, Horton has written extensively on the central message of Christianity, Christ and the gospel. In Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life Horton challenged the diluted messages increasingly replacing biblical teachings and focused on what the Scriptures actually proclaim. In this sequel, Horton turns to the central mission of the church and demonstrates how “mission creep” (pp. 8, 11, 16, 246, 293) threatens to undermine the one mandate given the church—the Great Commission. Horton defines mission creep as “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes” (p.8). When applied to Christianity there is “a tendency to expand the church’s calling beyond its original mandate” (p. 16). As a result “conservative Protestants today are…in danger, not so much of being attacked by New Atheists as of surrendering a robust confidence in God and his Word to a culture of marketing and entertainment, self-help and…

The Lost Art of Disciple Making, by Leroy Eims (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1978), 188 pp., paper $10.00

Written in 1978, The Lost Art of Disciple Making still functions as an excellent guide to aid the church in fulfillment of the Lord’s command to make disciples. The book is simple, practical and biblical and written by a man who has dedicated his life to making disciples. The Lost Art lacks detailed philosophical and theological discussion concerning the ministry of the church in general, and discipleship making in particular and if the reader is looking for such he will need to turn elsewhere. But for a workable, insightful manual on developing mature followers of Christ, who in turn will train others to follow the Lord, this volume is hard to beat. I would mention two areas in which the reader will want to use discernment. First, Eims offers many qualities, techniques and steps that are gleaned more from his experience in making disciples than drawn directly from Scripture. None…

Picking Up the Pieces, Recovering from Broken Relationships by Lou Priolo (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2012) 252 pp., paper $10.99

Originally published in 2003 under the title Losing That Loving Feeling, Picking Up the Pieces “addresses a very common human relationship problem: the problem of handling broken relationships, the problem of responding constructively to being rejected by someone for whom you have deep romantic feelings” (p. 9). As such, the book is directed at helping people who have gone through a romantic breakup, including divorce, to react with biblical principles. However, Picking Up the Pieces is applicable to other relationship losses, such as that between parents and children, between siblings and even close friendships. Priolo structures the book into 31 chapters, one for each day, with the chapter titles being spoofs of popular love songs, mostly from the country music genre. He offers many practical helps and appropriate Scriptures. The author attempts to penetrate the surface of emotions and outward actions and get to the heart. He covers such subjects…

If You Bite & Devour One Another, Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict, by Alexander Strauch, (Littleton, Colorado: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2011) 173 pp., paper $11.96

If You Bite & Devour is a companion volume to Strauch’s earlier work, Leading with Love. While there is much overlap between the two books, this first one approached the issue of love within the body of Christ from the positive side and was based on I Corinthians 13:4-8. This volume comes at the same subject from a more negative angle. Based on Galatians 5:15 the author warns of the damage caused when Christians ignore God’s command to love and instead turn on one another. Strauch states early the theme of If You Bite & Devour: When conflict arises, our attitudes and behaviors should reflect our new life in Christ given by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We are to walk in step with the Spirit’s leading. We are to be Spirit-controlled and not flesh-controlled or out of control. Let us examine this foundational principle as it is…

Multiply, Disciples Making Disciples, by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012) 333 pp., paper $8.00

I will begin the review by stating that Multiply is nothing like Chan’s original book Crazy Love. Where Crazy Love taught a truly radical, “crazy” (in the full sense of the word), and distorted understanding of Christian service and ministry, Multiply offers a balanced, biblical and helpful approach to making disciples. As I read through Multiply I kept expecting Chan to drop the “social gospel” bomb that dominated Crazy Love but it never happened. Apart from a couple of unexplained references to providing for the poor (pp. 129, 192) Chan stays with the biblical script on the importance and means of developing disciples. Chan states, “Multiply is designed as a simple resource that you can use to begin making disciples…the goals of the Multiply material areto help you understand the Scripture and to give you the tools to disciple others in this process” (p. 9). The plan includes working through…

Charting the End Times, a Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy, by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001), 141 pp., hard, $16.50

Charting the End Times is a powerful resource dealing with eschatological issues from a dispensational, pretribulational perspective. The book’s title is somewhat misleading, for this volume is far more than a collection of beautiful and helpful charts; it is a primer for all things pertaining to prophecy. As such it deals with foundational subjects such as biblical covenants, dispensations, canonisity, Jewish feasts and Israel’s tabernacle and temple. Upon this foundation prophecies regarding the future are detailed and explained in a format understandable to any serious student of Scripture. One need not have a degree in Bible to appreciate Charting the End Times but those who do will gain insight as well. Two cautions are in order. First, Ice and LaHaye are not arguing and defending their theological positions, they are simply stating them. Those looking for comprehensive discussions of various eschatological and exegetical differences on prophecy will want to look…

Fast Facts on Bible Prophecy by Thomas Ice & Timothy J. Demy, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1997) 237 pp., paper $10.98

This book is a handy reference work dealing with times and details concerning biblical prophecy, from a pretribulational, and dispensational perspective. It is organized alphabetically, like a small encyclopedia in which the reader can search for a word or phrase to find its meaning and how it is used in Scripture. The book opens with “Abaddon” and closes with “Zion,” with hundreds of short descriptions in between. Fast Facts is thorough and at the same time concise. It is an excellent starting point for understanding or refreshing one’s memory about prophetically-related subjects. The book has a number of helpful charts, but lacks indexes. For those knowledgeable on eschatology, especially as understood by dispensationalists, there will be few surprises in Fast Facts. However the authors take the “historical-prophetical” interpretation of the seven churches found in Revelation 2-3. Although not a unique view, I was not expecting to find two futurist scholars…

A Hunger for God, Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, by John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997) pp. 239, paper $10.99

John Piper pursues his usual theme, desiring God, this time through the means of fasting. He states early that “the birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God” (p. 13). Additionally Piper makes numerous and strong claims for fasting: it awakens our appetite for God (p. 23); it will help keep us from turning gifts into gods (pp. 17-20); fasting is a test to see what desires control us (pp. 19, 58); it is an intensifier of spiritual desire (p. 22); we cannot face the hazards of life and ministry without fasting (pp. 51, 62-63); Jesus triumphed over the devil by fasting and, thus, we owe our salvation, in some measure, to fasting (p. 55); fasting is a physical expression of heart-hunger for the coming of Jesus (p. 83); it awakens us to latent spiritual appetites by pushing the domination of physical forces from the center of our lives (p.…

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Practices That Transform Us, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 293 pp. paper $11.49

This book is exactly what its title claims – a handbook on the spiritual disciplines. It would serve as a handy reference work for those desiring a quick overview of the spiritual disciplines being promoted by the Spiritual Formation Movement. Two observations can be quickly made. First Calhoun turns almost everything into a discipline, from the traditional disciplines such as lectio divina and contemplative prayer to everyday life including friendship, rest and environmentalism. Secondly, her mentors in the world of disciplines are the Roman Catholic mystics: M. Basil Pennington, Henri Nouwen, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, St. Benedict and Julian of Norwich, and those who have imbibed their teachings: Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Karen Mains and Phyllis Tickle (p. 10). Knowing the source of any Christian teaching is always of value. Calhoun’s descriptions of most of the disciplines are mild compared to those…

The Great Tribulation, Past or Future?

Dispensational theologian Thomas Ice joins with covenantal/preterist theologian Kenneth Gentry to debate the timing of the Great Tribulation. Ice defends the position that the Tribulation is yet future, while Gentry supports moderate preterism which teaches that the Tribulation is past, having come in and around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They each write two chapters presenting their views and one chapter rebutting the position of the other. While the stated purpose of the book is to provide “a condensed introduction to and an overview of the basic issues,” the book is nevertheless highly technical and would only be recommended to those serious about the difference between the two camps. The book is far too complicated and intense for me to offer a blow-by-blow review, but I will mention two matters. First, the preterist position relies heavily on its interpretation of Matthew 24:34. “This generation” according to Gentry, is…

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (Crossway, 2015), 240 pp. $8.78

The “gospel” is a hot topic in evangelicalism today yet Matt Chandler is concerned, and rightly so, that Christians are not always using the word to mean the same thing (p. 13). Chandler wants to sharpen our definition under the heading “The Explicit Gospel,” however he seems to use the term in at least two ways. First, he fears that too many church goers have assumed they understand the good news but have never been taught explicitly what the gospel entails. They have confused the true gospel with “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (pp. 13, 203). Such people need a clear, “explicit” presentation of the good news. This leads to the second use of the “explicit” gospel, that of the “full gospel” (p. 111) (not to be confused with the full gospel of Pentecostalism). The full gospel has two prongs, the first of which the author calls “the gospel on the…

The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction

Jonathan Cahn’s, The Harbinger, is a warning to America that God’s judgment is imminent unless the country repents and turns to the Lord, and that very soon. The need for repentance and true dedication to Christ in our society is not doubted by most Christians. America, as a whole, has rejected the Lord, ignored His ways, and rebelled against His sovereign rule. That we ultimately reap what we sow is a biblical concept that is not going to be repealed for the United States and Cahn’s basic theme is well worth considering. If the book is read merely as a novel warning our country to wake up spiritually it has value, but the author makes immediately clear that “what is contained within the story is real” (p. 7). In other words Cahn believes that God pronounced exacting judgment on America and that judgment is found in Scripture, specifically Isaiah 9:10-11.…

The Rapture and Beyond

by John C. Whitcomb (Waxhaw, North Caroline: Kainos Books, 2012), pp. 175, paper $13.00 from Whitcomb Ministries. Whitcomb addresses three eschatology matters in this book. In Part One he deals with the destiny of the church including the Rapture, rewards for believers and the distinctions between Israel and the church. Part Two handles the Tribulation and the Second Coming, while the final section is devoted to the Millennium. The book is uneven, with a number of chapters being rather simplistic in nature, as the author states strong views without corresponding argumentation. But several other chapters carefully develop important positions with well thought-out support. The stronger chapters are those previously published in other books or journals and revised for this volume. These include: Chapter five which deals with Daniel’s seventy-weeks and shows why “weeks” must mean years leading to fulfillment of this prophecy, in particular the 70th week, during the Tribulation…

Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer

by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 220 pp., paper $19.99. Joining MacArthur and Mayhue in this work are three other members of The Master’s Seminary (Michael Vlach, Matthew Waymeyer and Nathan Busenitz). Together they write a solid understanding and defense of premillennailism, with MacArthur laying out the thesis of the book on the first page: This primer (basic, introductory book) intends to provide a clear and convincing biblical explanation for the interpretive approach to Scripture that results in a knowable futuristic view of Christ’s millennial reign on earth, the certain validity of God’s promises to future Israel, and the crucial differences between Israel (as a people and a nation) and the NT church. The authors are not only presenting a case for premillennialism in general but for dispensational premillennialism in particular. MacArthur writes that dispensationalism results from three things: interpreting Scripture normally, understanding Old Testament…

Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy

by Timothy Paul Jones, David Gundersen, Benjamin Galan (Torrence, CA: Rose Publishing, 2011), 363 pp., Paper 19.99 Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is the main author of this beautiful and helpful volume. The book is literally filled with colorful diagrams, charts and pictures that enhance its readability and makes a difficult subject a joy to read. Jones writes in a gracious tone, often humorously and with clarity. It is the authors’ goal not to argue but to produce a “deeper recognition of the majesty and sovereignty of Jesus in all of life – including the end of time” (p. 6). I believe he successfully meets his goal. The purpose of the book is to carefully map out the major evangelical positions on eschatology. To this end Jones provides four eschatological views (amillennial, postmillennial, dispensatonal premillennial, and historical premillennial), three theological systems (Dispensationalism,…

Parables in the Eye of the Storm, Christ’s Response in the Face of Conflict, by Stanley A. Ellisen (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001) 272 pp., paper $10.00

Stanley Ellisen, who was a professor of biblical literature and biblical studies at Western Baptist Seminary, writes this book to provide clarity of understanding to Jesus’ parables.  Of all the hermeneutical issues facing the student of Scripture few are as thorny as unraveling the parables.  As a result, many fanciful, incorrect and even detrimental interpretations of the parables have been rendered over the years.  Ellisen seeks to correct these interpretations in this, the most helpful book I have ever read on Jesus’ parables. Part One of Parables in the Eye of the Storm lays out the interpretation grid in which Ellisen believes the parables must be approached.  He offers five guidelines: (p. 8) 1)  discover the problem that made the parable necessary,2)  seek the central truth of the parable,3)  relate the details to the central truth,4)  clarify and authenticate the central truth, and5)  discover the intended appeal of the parable…

Body Prayer, The Posture of Intimacy with God, by Doug Pagitt and Kathryn Prill (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2005), 150 pp. $15.99

Body Prayer is written by two Emergent Church leaders and is based on the premise that our physical posture in prayer somehow brings our mind under the reign of the body (p. 6) and enhances our experience of intimacy with God. Thirty different prayer postures are offered; a few modeled after biblical examples but most not. The design behind these suggested postures and accompanied activities is to create a feeling of release, peace, inspiration or nearness to God. Each exercise is followed by blank pages in which the participant is to write a prayer journal chronicling his experience in using that particular posture in prayer. On the positive side, since Scripture does not prescribe any particular posture in prayer we have the freedom to use whatever bodily position we find helpful. However, Scripture does not ascribe the benefits to physical posture that these authors do. The distinct focus of the…

Strength for His People, a Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill, by Steven Waterhouse (Amarillo: Westcliff Press, 1994, 2002) 121 pp., paper, free upon request of the publisher

Pastor Steven Waterhouse writes this book dealing with mental illness, principally schizophrenia, from the backdrop of his own experience. His younger brother Mark has been diagnosed with schizophrenia resulting in many years of hospitalization and other supported housing. Steven and his brother grew up in an excellent church but found that their congregation, like many others, was uninformed and ill-equipped to minister to their family in helpful ways. Waterhouse believes the church should be the ultimate support group (p. 11) and writes this book to aid God’s people in this ministry as well as provide insight to believers and their families who face schizophrenia. Concerning psychology, Waterhouse sees it neither as voodoo nor virtue, but as having limited value (pp. 11, 13). It is only the Word of God that is sufficient, but medical research into mental illness is necessary (p. 3). Waterhouse makes a strong case for schizophrenia being…

Tithing, Test Me in This, by Douglas LeBlanc (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010) 165 pp., $12.99

The approach of this book is well summed up in the foreword written by Phyllis Tickle: In true LeBlanc fashion, he has chosen not to address tithing in long essays about its history among us or with critiques and tedious theological arguments. Instead in what I think was a stroke of genius or the angels or both, he has chosen to discover men and women who do tithe and are willing to say, publicly and on the record, why they do so. It is their stories in their words that Doug has collected here (p. xiii). With this in mind, if one is looking for a biblical understanding of tithing this is the wrong book. It is merely a collage of stories drawn from liberal protestants (chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7), a cultist (chapter 8), a charismatic (chapter 6), a rabbi (chapter 10), a Catholic priest (epilogue) and…

The Sacred Meal, by Nora Gallagher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), pp. 149, paper $12.99.

The Sacred Meal is part of the eight volume “Ancient Practices” series edited by Phyllis Tickle which is attempting to guide the church forward by examining seven practices of the ancient church. The volumes are a bit uneven, but each looks to disciplines that have shaped the Catholic Church and some liturgical Protestant churches (Gallagher preaches in an Episcopal church). Some of the authors interact with Scripture, but the teachings found in these books are drawn not from the Bible but rather from tradition, experience and opinion. The Sacred Meal is among the worst in the “Ancient Practices” series. If you turn to this book to get a better understanding of the Lord’s Supper, you will be gravely disappointed. Gallagher ignores Scripture rather than exegeting it. The reader will learn far more about Gallagher, her opinions, experiences and struggles than about the sacred meal. I actually believe she wrote more…

Wandering Stars, Contending for the Faith with the New Apostles and Prophets, by Keith Gibson (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2011) 306 pp., paper $12.50

Keith Gibson has written a comprehensive, well documented and most helpful book detailing the modern prophetic movement.  Much attention is given to Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, Rich Joyner and the so-called Kansas City Prophets, including the International House of Prayer ministry.  Also included is C. Peter Wagner and his International Coalition of Apostles which boasts approximately 500 “apostles” who claim comparable authority and giftedness to the New Testament apostles.  Gibson explains the roots and teachings of the Latter Rain Movement and its founder William Braham.  Prominent early prophetic leader John G. Lake is given attention as well. Wandering Stars is filled with information on the false teaching and ridiculous prophecies of many false prophets.  Gibson has read and listened to thousands of the never-ending prophesies that are published on such sites as the Elijah List.  While modern prophets uniformly claim that their revelations are “for revealing the strategic will of…

Hearing God, Developing a Conversational Relationship With God

Hearing God was previously published by Regal (1984), then by Harper (1993), and finally InterVarsity (1999) under the title of In Search of Guidance.  This updated and expanded edition is published under the Formatio wing of InterVarsity Press which offers numerous books promoting spiritual formation and “Christian” mysticism.  At the heart of both spiritual formation and mysticism is God speaking beyond the pages of Scripture.  For this reason Hearing God is an important book, written by one of the premiere leaders within the movement.   That Willard is merely updating the same message he delivered nearly 30 years ago shows that the spiritual formation movement has not changed its basic teachings.  And what are they?  In essence, that we can live “the kind of life where hearing God is not an uncommon occurrence” (p. 12), for “hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship and obtaining guidance is…

The Message of the Old Testament,by Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 959 pp., hardback $26.99

This volume is quite similar to Dever’s earlier work on the New Testament, with the same positives and negatives (see review on The Message of the New Testament).  The Message of the Old Testament, like its predecessor, provides one transcribed sermon per biblical book, as originally preached by Dever at the church he pastors.  The idea is worthy but it proves in practice more difficult with the Old Testament than the New.  Some Old Testament books are so massive and their message so foundational to the faith that only one sermon barely touches the highlights (think Genesis, Psalms or Isaiah).  Others are so small and relatively insignificant that a full message hardly seems warranted.  To devote one message to Jeremiah or Exodus and one to Zephaniah or Obadiah seems out of balance.  Since I was using Dever’s book as an aid to my own overview sermon series through the Old…

Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, A Book by Book Survey, by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 336 pp., paper $12.99

 If you happen to own Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible you have the same book in a different format.  Each Old Testament book is addressed by a different author who provides background information, overviews the theological message, discusses its place in the canon and its historic interpretation, and provides various insights.  The volume is not designed to offer in-depth study of the individual books or even a good survey.  Its main contribution is a quick index to a variety of views concerning interpretation and contemporary scholarship.  Beyond that I did not think the book was very helpful.

Pure Grace by Clark Whitten (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2012); 171 pp., paper $11.49.

The basic concern of author Clark Whitten is that legalistic, performance-based “religion” has eclipsed grace-based Christianity in the lives of countless believers.  He calls for a return to what he terms “pure grace” and claims to see evidence of a “grace reformation” forming that will far exceed anything during the time of Luther and Calvin (pp. 23, 143-158). There is much to commend in Pure Grace.  For example, within its pages we find the following correct teachings: • Legalism is devastating, not only for salvation but also for sanctification (p. 18).• Christians are not under the Old Testament Mosaic Law (pp. 21, 55-62).• Church age believers have been given a new nature, such that they are now fundamentally saints not sinners.  This does not mean they no longer sin, but that they have been transformed so that they are saints who sin, not sinners who sin (pp. 26-27). • Jesus did not die to…

The Sacred Journey, by Charles Foster (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 229 pp. plus xxi; paper $12.99

This book is part of The Ancient Practices Series, published by Thomas Nelson and edited by Phyllis Tickle.  The premise is that pilgrimage is essential to spiritual formation and Foster is seeking to provide answers to three questions: 1. How did anyone ever think that a journey, such as a journey made by a barn swallow, had any religious significance?2. Was he right?3. If he was, what should we do with the insight (p. xiii)? The author attempts to support the view that pilgrims and nomads are superior to city people and civilization in numerous ways: 1. Pilgrimage is what is meant by when Jesus said, “Follow Me” (pp. 25, 212).  2. Distorting biblical concepts, such as claiming Abel was a tramp while Cain was the founder of civilization (p. 37, 42), and Sodom is what happens when man stops wandering (p. 56).3. Terah, Abram and Lot were hippies (p. 57).4. God is a camper and a…

The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, by Timothy Keller (New York: Dutton, 2008, 151 pp., cloth $9.99.

The Prodigal God has received much notice and praise in the evangelical community.  The editors of World Magazine even proclaimed it their “Book of the Year.”  The accolades are understandable given Timothy Keller’s helpful apologetic approach (see his Reason for God), his winsome evangelism methods and his ability to turn a phrase, causing some to compare him favorably to C. S. Lewis.  Keller is on the mark throughout much of the book.  He is correct, for instance, that the story of the prodigal son is about two boys who are lost, not one.  Both the rebellious, obviously sinful younger brother and the self-righteous, legalistic older brother were disobedient to their father and needed to repent and “come home” (pp. 10-11, 18, 36).  Both brothers wanted their father’s possessions but sadly not their father (pp. 18, 36).  Keller rightly points out that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation (p.…

Loving the Way Jesus Loves, by Phil Ryken (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 222 pp., paper $14.99

In Loving the Way Jesus Loves Ryken does a fine job describing love as taught in 1 Corinthians 13.  The uniqueness of this book is, after dealing with each facet of love as found in the Pauline epistles, Ryken then illustrates it with an episode from the life of Christ as found in the Gospels.  The effect is to put shoes on love and watch as it travels about in real life situations. Ryken devotes one chapter each to twelve descriptions of love as provided by Paul.  I particularly appreciated chapter three, “Love Is Not Irritable,” chapter five, “Love’s Holy Joy,” chapter eleven, “Love Forgives,” and the last chapter, “Love Never Fails,” but every chapter has valuable insights.  This volume also comes with a helpful study guide for small groups. There are a handful of questionable comments such as when the author wrote that the new commandment given by Jesus…

Leading with Love,by Alexander Strauch (Littleton, Colorado: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2006) 201 pp., paper $10.49.

The title of this book is actually  “A Christian Leader’s Guide to Leading With Love” but with few exceptions it is a guide to any believer seeking to walk and serve in love.  After demonstrating the indispensable nature of love in Part One (the first three chapters), Strauch dedicates Part Two (chapters 4-9) to an excellent study of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  The author carefully explores the characteristics of love given in this passage.  He is both biblically sound and practical, lacing the study with insight from over 30 years of ministry within the church.  This section is applicable to anyone, whether in leadership or not.  It could also serve as a wonderful tool in counseling, or as an aide in preparation for teaching on love.  Part three (chapters 10-18) is entitled “The Works of a Loving Leader” and is more directly aimed at pastors, elders and others who are in…

Golf’s Sacred Journey, by David L. Cook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 126 pp., e-book $9.99.

This is a novel about golf with a message about living.  The storyline concerns a young pro-golfer wanting desperately to make it to the big leagues (the PGA tour).  Thinking he is closing in on his goal, he has a classic meltdown in an important tournament.  At the end of his rope, he wanders to the little town of Utopia, Texas, where he meets a former golf coach who mentors him in golf and life.  In “Karate Kid” fashion the coach improves the young man’s game through other activities such as fly fishing, tossing washers, piloting a small plane, painting, and by introducing him to a revolutionary new kind of putter.  In a week’s time the young golfer’s game is transformed and he wins the biggest tournament of his life.  But the coach also teaches the young pro that there are things in life far more important than golf (p.…

One Thousand Gifts, A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2010), pp. 237, Cloth $16.99

Ann Voskamp writes this bestselling book from an educational background in psychology and as a mother of six and farmer’s wife.  But her life has been shaped largely by the accidental death of her sister when the author was four (pp. 10-13).  Whether this tragedy was the main cause for Voskamp’s other emotional and spiritual problems can’t be determined, but we witness throughout One Thousand Gifts the tortured soul of one trying to find her way in life. She admits to periods of cutting herself, taking medication for depression, fear, anxiety attacks, and agoraphobia (pp. 144-149).  As is often the case, such emotional struggles led her to explore psychological theories which show up in her belief that she has rejected herself (p. 205), and in numerous statements such as, “The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling” (p. 136) and, “It’s impossible to give thanks and simultaneously…

Worship: The Ultimate Priority, by John MacArthur (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), pp. 192, cloth $14.99

John MacArthur’s new book is a rewrite of his classic from thirty years ago.  Though evangelical worship has degenerated further since then, he did not have to change much of the text; no doubt, due to its solid biblical basis to begin with.  More importantly, his theme that a believer’s whole life should be an expression of worship is timeless. In recent decades, the contemporary evangelical church has abandoned the sufficiency of God’s Word with regard to worship and has embraced pragmatism, i.e., whatever works.  This has led to surveys of the unchurched instead of surveying the Scriptures, trying to meet “felt needs” of the churched instead of their true spiritual needs, and a priority of entertainment over spiritual edification.  What is claimed to be contextualization (a necessity for missionaries in foreign cultures) is nothing more than old-fashioned consumerism in the U.S.  It is the opposite of Jesus’ injunction to…

The Liturgical Year, the Spiritual Adventure of the Spiritual Life, by Joan Chittister (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009) 217 pp., cloth $17.99

The Liturgical Year is part of the Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson, which, according to Phyllis Tickle (the General Editor of the series) involves seven ancient practices that inform all the Abrahamic faiths (p. xviii).  This volume is devoted to the liturgical year and the liturgy presented from the framework of the Roman Catholic community (p. xv).   This would be expected since the author is a Benedictine nun who believes “the liturgical year is the arena where our life and the life of Jesus intersect” (p. 16).  It is the liturgy that binds the faith community together and deepens our understanding of spiritual life (p. xiv). As Chittister and the Catholic tradition understand it, “The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over…

Jesus – Safe, Tender, Extreme by Adrian Plass (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 290 pp., cloth $23.99

Adrian Plass is a Christian author who has written many books detailing his experiences as he navigates through life.  His writing is humorous, vulnerable, refreshing and enjoyable.  He does not pretend to be a theologian (something he would not want to be anyway, see pp. 142, 145); he is “simply allowed to be a man with a broom, sweeping away the rubbish that prevents others from passing further in and further up, and [he] tends to do this by talking about what Jesus does and doesn’t do in [his] life” (p. 13).  To a certain degree Plass does sweep away some “rubbish,” such as when he deals openly and honestly with his own struggles with depression (p. 79) and doubts (pp. 40-44), when he points us to central truths such as loving and obeying Jesus (p. 139), when he reminds us that spiritual growth is not passive but calls for…

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn (Lake Mary, Florida: Frontline, 2011), pp. 144, e-book, $10.00.

The Harbinger is one of the hottest selling books today.  It is a quasi-fictional story reminiscent of novels such as The Da Vinci Code or The Shack.  Each of these books involves mystery and intrigue, and has a serious message that the authors want to convey.  Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci Code, wanted to cast doubt on the Christian message and interject the teaching of ancient Gnosticism.  The Shack portrays a new-age, unconditionally accepting view of God which promotes universalism.  The Harbinger is warning America that God’s judgment is imminent unless the country repents and turns to the Lord and that very soon.  The need for repentance and true dedication to Christ in our society is not doubted by most Christians.  America, as a whole, has rejected the Lord, ignored His ways, and rebelled against His sovereign rule.  That we ultimately reap what we sow is a biblical concept…

Real Marriage, the Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together

Real Marriage uses the backdrop of the Driscolls’ own marriage, with its numerous struggles, to provide marital advice on a number of topics such as friendship, respect, submission, sin, repentance and forgiveness.  These subjects are covered in the first section of the book and for the most-part the authors offer no unique insights.  The Driscolls do believe in the headship of the husband and submission of the wife but also believe in mutual submission as a result of their misunderstanding of Ephesians 5:21 (p. 64).  They also wrongly teach that providing for the family is man’s curse (p. 52), that 1 Peter 3:7 is about men being better physical fighters than women, and they open the book with an out of context quote of Revelation 21:5 (p. 3).  While much of their advice is biblically solid, a good portion is opinion based on either statistics or pop-psychology—for example love languages…

Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, by Ruth Haley Barton, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), cloth, 164 pp., $11.49.

Two of the essential spiritual disciplines within the Spiritual Formation Movement are the overlapping ones of solitude and silence.   Ruth Haley Barton, who writes extensively on such subjects and is the founder of the Transforming Center which is devoted to spiritual formation through the means of contemplative practices, does a good job in this volume of describing exactly what is meant by silence and solitude by those who teach spiritual formation.  On the positive side Barton calls her readers to occasionally slow down, disengage, and rest in the Lord.  Coupled with meditation on the Word and prayer this is good counsel to us all, especially in the overly busy, constantly running and production-oriented world in which we live.  But she miscues early on by confusing silence with God’s presence, “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God Himself” (p. 19). …

A Quest for More, Living for Something Bigger Than You, by Paul David Tripp (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008). 210 pp., paper, $17.99

If you are familiar with the writings of Paul Tripp, the subject and emphasis of this book will be what you would expect (see my review of Instrument in the Redeemer’s Hands for a fuller understanding of Tripp’s key ideas).  Tripp wants to expose his readers’ hearts.  He wants us not to be content with everyday lives, even the good things, but to find our satisfaction and life in Christ alone.  In this particular volume Tripp frames these two options of living as big kingdom and little kingdom living.  In little kingdom living we “constrict our life to the shape of our life” (pp. 22, 30).  Tripp insists that it is in the little kingdom that most people live and the little kingdom is inadequate for the life God intends for us.  This is why in our hearts we have a constant desire for something more.  That quest for more…

Ancient Christian Devotional, A Year of Weekly Reading, General Editor: Thomas C. Oden, Editor: Cindy Crosby (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 294 pp., paper $12.00

The Ancient Christian Devotional (ACD) is a companion to the massive Ancient Christian Commentary series, both of which are edited by Thomas Oden.  The Devotional apparently draws most, if not all, of its material from the commentary, both of which are designed to provide insights into the riches of church history and “help us to read holy writings with ancient eyes”   (p. 7).  The Devotional offers fifty-two weeks of readings, which follow the liturgical year.  The reading for each week is structured around the following elements:  theme, opening prayer, reading, Psalm of response, reflection from the church fathers and a closing prayer.   The book is well documented and includes an appendix of brief biographical sketches of those quoted in the volume.  Most often quoted are Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede, Jerome, and Origen. There are plenty of correct and helpful thoughts in ACD but few that are…

The Peacemaker, A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts, by Ken Sande (Grande Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 281 pp., paper $14.99.

The Peacemaker Ministries, and its flagship book under review here, is too well known to need much by way of comment by me.  Sande has provided the body of Christ a great service by thoroughly presenting the teaching of Scripture on the subject of unity and peacemaking.  This is a marvelous source for personal use as well as a tool for counselors who will inevitably deal with conflict.  The only drawback I see is that the length of the book may prove overwhelming to some readers.  There is a children’s edition that might be used in such a situation. The book is organized along the guiding principles of Peacemakers, also known as the Peacemakers Pledge (pp. 235-237).  These principles are: • Glorify God (chapters 1-3)• Get the log out of your eye (chapters 4-6)• Go and show your brother his fault (chapters 7-9)• Go and be reconciled (chapters 10-12) When following these principles still…

The Book of Books, The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton 2011), 347 pp., hardback 18.99

Bragg has written a fascinating book describing the development, importance and influence of the King James Bible.  The first several chapters deal with the translation of the KJV, especially detailing the debt owed to William Tyndale.  A very nice overview of Tyndale’s life is given (pp. 12ff) and reference is made to approximately 80% of the KJV actually being Tyndale’s translation (pp. 45, 141), although 54 scholars, a quarter of them Puritans, produced the final product. The impact of the KJV can hardly be overstated.  It helped standardize the English language, especially the spelling of words (pp. 120-124, 134), it changed cultures, brought social reforms, encouraged education and of course helped spread Christianity.  Bragg details all of these and more.  The author’s esteem for the KJV is immense which is surprising given that Bragg is not a Christian (see pp. 200, 294-295, 304-309).  He writes as a nostalgic and appreciative…

Satisfy Your Soul, Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality by Bruce Demarest, (Colorado Springs: NavPress 1999), 312 pp., paper $10.50.

Dr. Bruce Demarest, longtime professor of theology and spiritual formation at Denver Seminary, offers this book as a polemic for what is commonly called spiritual formation, a method of spiritual development created and promoted for centuries within Roman Catholicism.  Demarest assures us repeatedly that he is evangelical in doctrine (see p. 10) but discovered something lacking in his life which his theology could not address. He similarly assumes that those reading this book have a similar need in their souls (pp. 7, 17, 22).  Due to the author’s perceived lack of spirituality he decided to participate in a six-week residential program at the Renewal Center at the Roman Catholic Benedictine Abby in Pecos, New Mexico (pp. 23-24). There he was instructed that “for centuries Christians understood what it meant to ‘live by the Spirit’….[but today evangelicals] are not taught how to find the growing edge of our souls—where we hunger…

John MacArthur, Servant of the Word and Flock,by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), 246 pp., Hardcover, $17.49

It is a bit unusual to write biographies about the living, a fact the author recognizes, but Murray apparently wanted to be the first to make such an endeavor for John MacArthur.  Iain Murray is a well-respected church historian and biographer and co-founder of The Banner of Truth Trust.  He has written a relatively brief but faithful account of the high points of John MacArthur’s ministry.  Very little concerning MacArthur’s personal life or family is found in these pages (one small exception being a chapter on his wife Patricia).  Virtually nothing is recounted about his children, either while young or now.  Nothing about family life, socializing with friends or other personal notes of interest are detailed.  This book, therefore, is not so much about MacArthur’s life as an account of his ministry.  In this regard we are given insights into his philosophy of ministry, preaching style, theology and personal convictions. …

Dreams and Visions, Muslims’ Miraculous Journey to Jesus by Rick Kronk (Italy: Destiny Image Europe, 2010), pp. 185, paper $11.69.

It is widely reported today that many Muslim people are coming to Christ as a direct result of dreams and visions apparently given to them by the Lord.  Rick Kronk, who has spent 20 years ministering to Islamic people, believes these reports are legitimate and has written this book in an attempt to prove his thesis. Kronk begins his book with a story of one Muslim who was converted through dreams.  This is followed by a brief but helpful chapter on the history of Islam and an overview of its core doctrinal beliefs.  Kronk offers a 2009 report claiming that there are now 1.57 billion Muslims in the world or 23% of the world’s population (p. 31).  Without question Islam has caught the attention of the world and its influence is undeniable.  Yet the author believes many Muslims are also coming to salvation these days and, of the ones who…

How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-five Difficult Steps by Christian Smith (Cascade Books, 2011), 205 pp., paper $24.00

Christian Smith, a self-confessed former evangelical and professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, was accepted into full communion of the Catholic church in 2010 (p. 2).  He writes this book not as a “theological treatise, nor an apologetic argument for Catholicism” but as a “how to book” (p. 3).  He offers 95 steps that will lead evangelicals back to Catholicism. In order to draw evangelicals to Catholicism he must first vilify evangelicalism which he does throughout the book.  He in fact identifies many true flaws in the evangelical sub-culture, but in doing so he grossly over-generalizes, misrepresents, and makes groundless accusations.  He characterizes evangelicals as stupid (see pp. 77-78), mindless followers of the herd, who if they would only come to their senses would all head toward Catholicism immediately. The discerning reader wants to cry out about every third page that what Smith writes is simply not…

Downtime, Helping Teenagers Pray by Mark Yaconelli (El Cajon, CA: Zondervon, 2008), pp. 286, paper $21.50

This is yet another book by Mark Yaconelli attempting to promote contemplative Christian living among young people (see his Contemplative Youth Ministry and Growing Souls).   Although much of Downtime speaks of prayer, the real topic of the book is rest—how to find relief from anxiety, with prayer being the means of providing that relief (pp. 19, 23-25, 43, 59, 60, 67, 136-140). Yaconelli believes the best way to obtain this kind of rest is through practicing the methods found in ancient Christian tradition.  By Christian tradition what the author means is the Roman Catholic contemplative tradition found in the life of the desert fathers and mothers and various Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics (pp. 21, 128, 137,268, 270, 273).  He draws his teaching almost exclusively from the mystics: Meister Eckhart (pp. 27, 33, 35, 167)Brother Lawrence (pp. 36, 55, 186)St. Seraphim (p. 50)Thomas Merton (p. 54)Teresa of Avila (pp. 54,…

Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001, 298 pp., $16.99.

Welch makes clear from the outset what he is trying to accomplish: “What is the basic point of this book?  Theology makes a difference.  It is the infrastructure of our lives.  Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins.  Build it well and you will be prepared for anything.  The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup.  Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. XVI). The author interacts much with the teachings of Alcohol Anonymous, recognizing a number of positive features of the program but identifying its limitations as well.  One of his major concerns with AA is that while it teaches that addictions are sinful (or wrong) choices it ultimately promotes the disease model (p. 37).  When sin is seen as a disease, both its DNA and its cure is changed from the biblical teachings which focus…

What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), pp. 283, paper $10.00

The authors contend that determining the mission of the church “is the most confusing, most discussed, most energizing, and most potentially divisive issue in the evangelical church today” (p. 25).  Scot McKnight claims that recent interest in social justice, or what he calls missional “represents the biggest shift in evangelicalism in the last century” (p. 142).  I believe these men are correct.  Much ink has been spilled of late promoting the social agenda and a good book challenging missional thinking—drawing us back to Scripture to carefully analyze such thinking—was needed.  This is that book.  It is well done, carefully researched, scripturally based and extremely practical.  It is also written by the right men.  Both DeYoung and Gilbert are highly respected by the young, Reformed, and restless crowd that is most likely to swallow the missional agenda without much reflection.  If nothing else, What Is the Mission of the Church? should…

The Sovereignty and Supremacy of King Jesus, Bowing to the Gracious Despot by Mike Abendroth, (Ryelands Road, UK: Day One Publications), pp. 239, $11.99.

Steven Lawson states in the forward of this book, “The foundational truth of all Christian theology is that bedrock doctrine of all doctrines: the sovereignty of God over the entire universe” (p. 11).  Abendroth attempts to flesh out this thesis by tracing the concept of Jesus as king throughout the Bible.  The word “king” is found in the NKJV 2237 times in 1801 verses; it is obviously a huge subject in the Bible.  Of course not all of these references speak of the Son, but Jesus’ role as king is well established in Scripture.  Abendroth makes his case for the sovereignty of Jesus over all things in part one, consisting of four chapters.  In part two he makes application, providing helpful chapters on preaching (6-7), prayer (8), worship (10) and the Lord’s return (11).  Abendroth is a strong Calvinist which is evident throughout, but especially in chapter nine on election. …

Majestic Destiny by Curtis H. Tucker (Redmond, Oregon: Last Chapter Publishing, 2011), 292 pp., paper $15.99.

Curtis Tucker defends a pretribulational, dispensational, eschatological understanding of the kingdom of God.  He believes a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth is taught in Scripture and wraps this book around that theme.  With this, Tucker stands firmly with all dispensational theologians, but Majestic Destiny is not a rehash of typical dispensational distinctives; rather, the author has a particular subject in mind—the kingdom of God.  As is evident from the book’s endorsements from Bruce Wilkinson, Joseph Dillow, and Earl Radmacher among others, some dispensationalists agree with Tucker but many others, including me, do not. The thesis of the Majestic Destiny, repeated in various forms throughout the volume, is “The big idea of the Bible is not getting people to heaven.  The big idea of the Bible is the coming kingdom of Christ” (p. 18).  Said with greater clarity, “From Genesis to Revelation, the main theme of the Bible…

I Surrender All by Clay and Renee Crosse, with Mark Tabb (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 173 pp. paper $9.99

I Surrender All is the true story about well-known Christian recording artist Clay Crosse’s enslavement to pornography which nearly destroyed his marriage, his career and his life.  As Clay admits, he was never a strong Christian but the Lord had gifted him with marvelous singing ability.  With his breakout song “I Surrender All” in 1994 Clay was catapulted to the upper echelons of the Christian entertainment world.  Clay saw himself as an entertainer, not a minister, and while his music lifted high the enthusiasm of his audiences, his spiritual life bounced along near bottom.  Clay and his wife Renee were content to enjoy the fruits of success: money, possessions, awards and applause.  Neither saw the need for a deeper walk with God, seldom reading the Bible or being involved in their local church.  In addition, they had desensitized themselves against worldly habits and amusements, so it was just a short…

Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996) 215 pp., paper $9.99

Rome Sweet Rome by Scott & Kimberly HahnBorn Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David B. Currie In recent years we have witnessed a softening perspective of the vast disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelicalism.  Some leaders in both camps now proclaim that we are all brothers in Christ and any remaining differences are either minor or resolvable in time.  In addition, there has been a steady trickle of evangelicals returning to Rome, including a number of celebrated cases.  Two books that reportedly aid in the return to Rome are the subjects of this review.  I have chosen to review these works together because of their substantial overlap.  Both sets of authors were deeply ingrained in evangelicalism but ultimately chose to join the Catholic Church, and for many of the same reasons. I will begin with Rome Sweet Rome because it is less a theological defense of Rome’s teaching…

Rome Sweet Home by Scott & Kimberly Hahn, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 183 pp. plus xiii, paper $9.99.

Rome Sweet Home by Scott & Kimberly HahnBorn Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David B. Currie In recent years we have witnessed a softening perspective of the vast disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelicalism.  Some leaders in both camps now proclaim that we are all brothers in Christ and any remaining differences are either minor or resolvable in time.  In addition, there has been a steady trickle of evangelicals returning to Rome, including a number of celebrated cases.  Two books that reportedly aid in the return to Rome are the subjects of this review.  I have chosen to review these works together because of their substantial overlap.  Both sets of authors were deeply ingrained in evangelicalism but ultimately chose to join the Catholic Church, and for many of the same reasons. I will begin with Rome Sweet Home because it is less a theological defense of Rome’s teaching…

The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008) pp. 234 plus xxxvii, hardcover $16.00

In MacArthur’s preparation for writing his book Truth War he found a common theme throughout much of his reading: “That if Christians want to reach unbelieving people in a postmodern culture, we need to be less militant, less aggressive, less preachy and less sure of our own convictions” (p. ix).  MacArthur determined as a result to write this volume to show that Jesus’ approach was just the opposite.  This is a book that needed to be written, but MacArthur is fighting an uphill battle.  The mood of the moment is indeed as he described.  Even those with excellent biblical discernment are hesitant to speak out or offer honest critique in fear of being accused of being negative or mean-spirited.  We are often told that even serious evaluation is received as militant and rejected by postmodern young people.  Yet, interestingly enough, these very young people, and their leaders, very openly and…

The Judgment Seat of Christ by Samuel L. Hoyt (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2011, revised 2015), 236 pp., paper $19.95

Dr. Hoyt has provided an excellent, comprehensive understanding of the judgment seat of Christ.  He states that the purpose of this study is “to carefully establish the limits of this judgment in regard to its nature and results” (p. 179).  The thesis is “that the judgment seat of Christ is a most solemn evaluation at which there will be no judicial punishment for the believer’s sins, whether confessed or unconfessed, but rather commendation according to the faithfulness of the Christian’s life” (p. 15).   Hoyt rejects the prominent view of only one general judgment (pp. 17-22) espousing the understanding of most premillenialists that there are five major eschatological judgments (pp. 22-23).  The judgment seat of Christ is specific to the church-age believer and occurs between the rapture and the second-coming of Christ (pp. 47-54).  In describing the judgment seat of Christ the author provides individual chapters on the setting, nature,…

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man by Michael John Beasley. The Armour Ministries, 2011, 144 pp., $10.95

In this volume Beasley concurs with the criticism heaped on Rob Bell and his heretical book Love Wins.  But he is justly confused as to why others, particularly C.S. Lewis who taught essentially many of Bell’s errors, receives accolades from the critics of Bell.  This is a valid point.  Lewis, who never claimed to be an evangelical (pp. 11-12), is quoted and followed by evangelicals almost without question. For example, Beasley points out that John Piper builds upon Lewis for his concept of hedonistic Christianity and Timothy Keller draws much of his apologetics from Lewis as well (see my review of Keller’s Reason for God).  Lewis gets a bye from many evangelicals because he is creative, eminently quotable and seldom directly enters the realm of theology.  Yet a careful reading of his works, both polemical and fictional, reveals serious false views: He rejects penal substitution, minimizes justification by faith, accepts…

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd edited by Jonathan Edwards, by Philip E. Howard, Jr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989, 285 pp. paper $12.00

The diary of 18th century missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, is too well known to need much critique from me.  It became world-renown due to the efforts of Jonathan Edwards who edited and published the diary and journal shortly after Brainerd’s death at the young age of 29.  It has since served as an encouragement for spiritual fervor and dedicated service to the Lord for the tens of thousands who have read it. Brainerd did not write his diary with the intent of others reading it.  As such it is a record of his personal struggles and triumphs in his walk with God.  No one, after reading the diary, could ever doubt this young man’s sincerity.  He desired to be all that God wanted him to be and served the Lord so mightily that it most likely broke his health.  But his constant morbid introspection is troublesome.  Even…

New Evangelicalism by Paul Smith. Costa Mesa: Calvary Publishing, 2011, 215 pp. paper $12.00

Paul Smith is one of the original founders and leaders of the Calvary Chapel Movement, in my opinion the most doctrinally sound and biblically oriented of the charismatic/Pentecostal organizations.  In this book Smith is not bashful about presenting his and Calvary Chapel’s theological distinctives which include:  the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, salvation by faith alone, pretribulational/dispensational eschatology and a firm stance on the fundamentals.  While I would differ with Smith on cessationalism and present day use of spiritual gifts, I would stand with him on the doctrines above.  Smith’s burden is to sound a warning concerning the theological shift that has taken place, and continues, in much of evangelism.  On the negative side I do not place much store on what might be called his conspiracy theories which attempt to trace many of America’s social and moral failings to a gathering of intellectuals in 1905 (p. 9) or the …

Uneclipsing the Son by Rick Holland, The Woodlands, TX: Lress Biblical Resources, 2011, 146 pp. paper $12.00

Uneclipsing the Son offers a simple, solid reminder that the Christian life is all about Christ.  In the clutter of living this is a message that we all need to hear.  Holland’s thesis is that in the many activities and options available to the believer our focus on Christ is easily eclipsed.  Sin, in particular, causes Christians to lose their passion for the Lord.  To “uneclipse” the Son it is necessary to step back and “recalibrate, refocus, re-energize, renew and recommit” (p. 111).  Holland offers many suggestions on how to do this including remembering the gospel (pp. 14-23), renewing affection for Christ (p. 66), fighting sin (pp. 86-89) and understanding and participating in the Lord’s Table, to which he devotes a whole chapter (pp. 111-121). Uneclipsing the Son is good stuff—biblical, practical, easy to read, and providing a message that we all need to take to heart.  This would be…

Sanctuary of the Soul, Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011, 166 pp. Paper $16.00

Sanctuary of the Soul is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  The Sanctuary of the Soul adds virtually nothing to Foster’s previous works all the way back to his Celebration of Discipline written in 1978.  He still draws from the same sources of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics:  Teresa of Avila (p. 29, 38, 78-79, 152), St John of the Cross (p. 81), Thomas Kelly (p. 33), Agnes Sanford (pp. 121, 141, p. 43), Francis de Sales (p. 38), George Fox (p. 34, 54), Henry Nouwen (pp. 42-43), St. Benedict (p. 46, 90), Thomas Merton (pp. 61, 131, 135), Evelyn Underhill (pp. 62, 105), Mother Teresa (pp. 66, 134), Kierkegaard (pp. 66, 144), Madame Guyon (pp. 73-75) and St. Francis (p. 135).  It is from these “masters of the spiritual life” (p. 36) that Foster draws…

Sacred Chaos, Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Have, by Tricia McCary Rhodes, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008, pp. 183, paper $10.00

Sacred Chaos is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  Rhodes’s book would be typical of formatio publications, many of which I have already reviewed.  She mostly recommends the same ancient Roman Catholic practices that other authors in the series recommend: The Jesus Prayer (pp. 115-117), spiritual breathing (p. 64), lectio divina (pp. 68-71), use of icons, incense, candles, prayer beads, etc. (p. 75), finding your divine center (p. 76), consultations (pp. 93-98), the prayer of examen (pp. 100-104, 164), breath prayer (p. 106) and fasting (p. 130).  The usual sources are quoted and recommended: Theophan the Recluse (p. 9), Anne Rice (pp. 37-38), Mother Teresa (pp. 63, 126-127), Thomas Kelly (p. 76), Catherine of Siena (p. 77), Bernard of Clairvaux (p. 77), Madame Guyon (pp. 79-81), Francois Fénelon (p. 81), Ignatius of Loyola (pp. 100, 102), Francis…

No More Christian Nice Guy, by Paul Coughlin (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005) 224 pp, paper $13.99

Paul Coughlin has recognized a real problem that exists in the Christian community and indeed throughout Western society.  In the last couple of generations men have lost what it means to be men.  In general, some men err on the side of aggressiveness while others become passive, even doormats in order to avoid conflict and trouble (pp. 83, 139, 217-218).  It is the latter group that Coughlin targets, calling for masculine men who are neither passive nor aggressive but assertive (p. 93).  The catalyst for the author’s concern is his own life as a passive, Christian Nice Guy (CNG) stemming from his abusive home life and his training in the church.    Coughlin believes it is time for a new approach—one that he believes has not been in much use for 2,000 years (p. 27).  The back cover tells us “John Eldredge gave men permission to be ‘Wild at Heart.’  Paul…

No More Christian Nice Girl by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. Degler, PhD. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 224 pp. paper $14.99

While No More Christian Nice Girl is co-authored by Paul Coughlin who wrote No More Christian Nice Guy (see my review) this book has a very different flavor.  Gone are the majority of the over-generalizations (not all) and the often belligerent tone.  However, Nice Girl is far more psychological in nature, as one might expect from the co-author Jennifer Degler who is a licensed psychologist.  This book could be categorized as a self-help manual drawing almost entirely from psychological and observational sources.  It is by no means, however, a book based on the Bible.  Scripture is rarely used, and when it is it usually is taken out of context or distorted.  There are references along the way of the assertive side of Jesus, and a helpful appendix doing the same, but the principles found within this volume do not primarily emerge from Scripture. And therein lies the major flaw of…

How Then Should We Choose, Gen. Ed. Douglas S. Huffman (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009) 269 pp. paper $11.99

As the subtitle explains, this is a book that examines “three views on God’s will and decision making.”  Huffman has identified the dominate views found within evangelicalism and gathered champions of each position to present his case and interact with the other systems. The “specific-will” view is represented by Henry and Richard Blackaby:  “The core belief of this perspective is that God not only has a specific will for individuals but also communicates that will to people so they can follow it” (p. 33).  The Blackabys believe that the Lord communicates His specific will independent from Scripture and mostly through an inner witness.  As a result they teach “the key to knowing God’s will is being able to recognize when He is speaking to you.  Even a cursory examination of the Bible reveals that God communicates with individuals” (p. 53).  The essence of the specific-will position is that the Lord…

Politics–According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem. Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2010, 619 pp, cloth $35.00

Politics—According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem applies the teachings of Scripture to key political issues and argues for Christian involvement. The author makes no attempt to find a middle-ground position that appeals to all, but allows his hermeneutic to drive his conclusions. This work heavily favors the Republican platform. The book is divided into three parts: Basic Principles, Specific Applications and Concluding Observations. The first part supports Grudem’s thesis of significant Christian influence, outlines the role of government, touches upon a Christian worldview and examines the power of the judiciary. What is the purpose of civil government? Does the Bible support democracy? Should believers only vote for Christian candidates? Grudem’s answers are thought-provoking, most notably, his discussion of ultimate power in a nation (pp. 124-150). However, not all of part one is adequate as Grudem only has four pages of biblical support for his position of significant influence (pp.…

The New Nature by Renald E. Showers (Renald E. Showers, 1996) 182 pp, paper $9.95

In The New Nature, Renald Showers has provided one of the finest explanations of the transforming nature of regeneration available anywhere.  Admitting that “nature” is not a biblical term Showers prefers “disposition.”  He writes, “The old nature is a disposition of enmity against God…the new nature is a favorable disposition toward God.  It consists of the law of God written in the human heart.  The Holy Spirit places it inside the believer at the moment of regeneration” (p. 9).  Throughout the book Showers clearly distinguishes and defines certain terms and concepts that are often confused:  old man, new man, regeneration, new and old nature, total depravity, flesh, etc.  While saints under the Old Covenant were regenerated and given a new disposition they were not empowered by the Holy Spirit while those under the New Covenant are.  During this present age the new disposition will give the regenerate man the desire…

Scandalous, the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by D. A. Carson. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 170 pp. $15.99 paper

This book is an edited version of five sermons that Carson preached at a Resurgence conference in Mars Hill, Seattle.  Carson attempts not only to detail events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ but also to explain what they mean.  He does so by “unpacking” (a favorite word of the author) five sections of the Bible.  By doing so Carson gives solid teaching on the gospel message. Scandalous is meaty yet readable and contains detailed explanations yet is nicely illustrated.  One issue that I would take is Carson’s covenantal view of the book of Revelation (pp. 80-90).  With this aside I believe Scandalous well worth reading.  I especially appreciated Carson’s statement about idolatry: If you want something bad enough, that thing becomes god for you.  It is idolatry, which means that instead of wanting God, you want the thing which de-gods God (p. 46).

Whatever Happened to the Gospel by David Nicholas. Bloomington, IN: Crossbooks, 2010. 148 pp. paper $13.95.

David Nicholas, longtime pastor of Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, Florida, is concerned about how the gospel is presented, especially in pastoral preaching.  He calls his approach the Bad News/Good News and insists that both must be presented clearly, and in detail, in every sermon. The author’s gospel presentation is clear and biblical.  He decries approaches such as Rick Warren’s (pp. 32-33) and rejects the views of the emergent church leadership (pp. 86-89).  At the very least Whatever Happened to the Gospel could serve as a good primer, and/or reminder, of what the gospel message is.  The one area that I would question is the mandate, as Nicholas sees it, to present the gospel in full at every service of the church.  I can find no biblical warrant for preaching the gospel each time to the church gathered.  Neither by precept nor example do we see this model presented…

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg. Grand Rapids, Zondervan , 2002. 269 pp. Hard, $18.99

Ortberg, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, published The Life You’ve Always Wanted in 1997 and expanded it in 2002.  The book provides a good taste of the style and content of the teaching at Willow Creek and its many clones.  Concerning style Ortberg is entertaining, interesting and enjoyable.  He uses freely and well numerous stories and illustrations that present his understanding of the Christian life as inviting.As for content much of what Ortberg offers is helpful, practical and biblical.  The book, however, is heavily laced with the teachings, and teachers, of mysticism and Roman Catholic traditions and rituals.  The authors he draws from and quotes are a virtual Who’s—Who of mystics both past and present: Richard Foster (pp. 9, 81, 100, 112, 113, 143)Dallas Willard (pp. 10, 27, 35, 43, 52, 66, 92, 106)St. John of the Cross (pp. 36, 157)Thomas Kelly (pp. 76, 140, 150)Thomas Merton…

Worship in Song, A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, by Scott Aniol, Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2009. 281 pp. paper, $17.99.

Scott Aniol, who serves as the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, writes this book for two reasons: first, to distinguish between secular music, that might be appropriate for everyday use, and sacred music, especially in the context of the church gathered; second, “Newer generations are increasingly rejecting conventional arguments for a conservative music philosophy.”  Aniol believes it is time for another voice (p. viii).  This volume is divided into three sections, the first wisely devoted to laying the foundation.  Here strong support for biblical sufficiency is given (see p. 1) and a definition of worship is sought.  Anoil ultimately defines worship as “a spiritual response to God as a result of understanding biblical truth about God” (p. 30).  The two responses that are essential are affection and action (p. 33).  This leads to one of the most helpful insights in the book—the difference between passions and affections.  Drawing heavily…

Israel and the Church by Ronald E. Diprose (Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2004. 281 pp., paper, $16.99)

Diprose is academic dean at the Evangelical Italian Bible Institute in Rome, not a place one might expect a strong scholarly work supporting a premillennial view of Israel.  Nevertheless, the subtitle of the book summarizes well the contents:  “The Origin and Effects of Replacement Theology.”  Diprose actually addresses two concerns: replacement theology—the idea that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God and what he calls “the new majority view.”  The bulk of the book deals with replacement theology while “the new majority” is regulated to an appendix.  Diprose admits that replacement theology has been the dominant view within the church since post-apostolic times until the middle of the 19th century (p. 30).  However, he does not believe that this theology emerges from Scripture.  Chapter two is devoted to a careful analysis of the pertinent Scriptures on the subject and, based especially on Romans 9-11, the author concludes…

The Deeper Journey, the Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

The Deeper Journey is published by the formatio wing of InterVarsity Press.  Formatio books are dedicated to the promotion of classical Christian mysticism and this particular book serves formatio’s goals well.  Mulholland begins with the standard opening often found in mystical and emergent literature—that is, convincing his readers that there has to be more to their Christian life than they are presently experiencing.  Once the reader is on board he is shown why what he has known previously is completely off base and then he is enlightened concerning the new and improved methodology—in this case classical Roman Catholic and Quaker mysticism.  Even when Mulholland teaches biblical principles he consistently illustrates his points with the best known Roman Catholic and Quaker mystics:  Thomas Merton (pp. 20, 91, 114, 115, 135, 144), Thomas Kelly (pp. 97, 149, 150), Henri Nouwen (pp. 102-103, 119), Francis of Assisi (p. 18), John of the Cross…

Hell Under Fire, General Editor Christopher W. Morgan and Robert Peterson

The traditional understanding of hell, long held by the vast majority of conservative Christians, is under heavy fire today.  Both universalism and annihilationism have made considerable inroads into evangelicalism.  Perhaps the best recognized proponent of annihilationism is John R. W. Stott, while the most recent champion of universalism is Rob Bell.  There continues to be, therefore, a need for serious and scholarly examination of this subject.  Hell Under Fire is just such an examination as nine different authors contribute to this well-written and well-organized book of the afterlife. Al Mohler writes the opening chapter, “Modern Theology:  The Disappearance of Hell,” which clearly defines and illustrates the modern theological landscape on the subject of hell.  This is followed by detailed study of what the Old Testament has to say on hell (Daniel I. Block), what Jesus said (Robert W. Yarbrough), what Paul wrote (Douglas J. Moo) and what the Book of…

The Glory Due His Name: What God Says About Worship by Gary Reimers. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2009. 100 pp. $9.95

The Glory Due His Name by Gary Reimers is a welcome addition to the Bob Jones University Seminary “Biblical Discernment for Difficult Issues” series. Gary Reimers is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greenville, SC, and a professor of theology at Bob Jones University Seminary. Reimers teaches worship theology to both undergraduate ministerial students and in the seminary, has spoken on the subject in pastors’ meetings around the country, and has made the subject the focus of personal study for many years, well-equipping him to write on this important topic. Running throughout this short volume is an overarching theme that worship is about God, for God, and determined by God. This refreshingly God-centered, Scripture-rooted emphasis is a much-needed one in worship discussions. Reimers begins, then, by looking to Scripture to determine “true worship’s essence and elements” (Chapter 1, p. 4ff). He starts by describing what he considers “the…

Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God: A Theological Study on the Plurality and Tri-unity of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. by John B. Metzger

John B. Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God: A Theological Study on the Plurality and Tri-unity of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.  San Antonio, Tex.: 2010.  905 pp., cloth, $49.95. In the view of some Christians today, the Old Testament is not as relevant to the Christian life as the New Testament is.  As the thinking goes, the Old Testament contains some interesting stories about God and the Israelites and it contains some wonderful prophecies about the coming Messiah but it does not give us as much information about God as the New Testament does.  Particularly, it does not tell us much about the relationship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  It does not explain the Trinity to us.  But, in the words of the author of Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God, “God did not present Messiah in…

Broken Down House: Live Productively in a World Gone Bad by Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp.  Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad.  Wapwallopen, Penn.: Shepherd Press, 2009.  223 pp.  $12.99 (paperback). Ministry can be a very frustrating endeavor, especially when it is unclear where the ministry is heading.  In one of his latest books, Paul David Tripp makes the case that all Biblical ministry is headed towards the restoration of fallen sinners and maybe even more than that.  In his own words, Sin has ravaged the beautiful house that God created.  This world bears only the faintest resemblance to what it was built to be.  It sits slumped, disheveled, in pain, groaning for the restoration that can only be accomplished by the hands of him who built it in the first place.  The Bible clearly tells us that the divine Builder cannot and will not leave his house in its present pitiful condition.  He has instituted a plan of restoration,…

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006; pp. 191, hardback, $17.00 Sacred Rhythms is a typical book published by the Formatio wing of InterVarsity Press.  Formatio books are dedicated to promotion of ancient mystical practices, largely from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Quaker traditions, under the banner of “spiritual formation.”  Barton’s book could serve as a primer to this mystical world which was largely unknown to most evangelicals until the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines in the mid-1970s. The opening quote by Elizabeth Dreyer maps out the direction for the rest of the book:  One can begin one’s (spiritual) quest by attending to the desires of the heart, both personal and communal.  The Spirit is revealed in our genuine hopes for ourselves and for the world.  How brightly burns the flame of desire for a love affair with God, other people, the world? …

Devotional Classics by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith

In his effort to promote classical Christian mysticism, what he calls spiritual renewal, Richard Foster has written many books, spoken throughout the world and founded the organization RENOVARÉ.  One of his literary efforts is to introduce the writings of the mystic in a collage such as the earlier Spiritual Classics and this volume Devotional Classics.  Devotional Classics provides fifty-two selections from fifty-two authors representing five traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice and evangelical.  Many of the selections come from well-known Roman Catholic mystics such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross.  There also are at least seven Quakers including  Thomas Kelly, George Fox, Isaac Penington, John Woolman and Hannah Whitall Smith.  The reader unfamiliar with the wider body of works from these individuals will not be able to glean from most of these devotional offerings…

Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright

In this volume Wright attempts to address three themes:  the problem of evil in our contemporary culture in the light of Jewish and Christian traditions; a Christian perspective on the problem of evil, especially as it touches the global empire, criminal justice and punishment, and war; the corporate as well as the individual response, especially in relationship to forgiveness (see p. 18).  Wright states the central point of his book as:  “The ultimate answer to this aspect at least of the problem of evil—is not only that in the new world God himself will be beyond the reach of the moral blackmail of unresolved evil, but that we shall be as well” (p. 143). Wright takes to task those in our culture who naively hope that human progress will ultimately abolish evil, or at least greatly diminish human wickedness.   He sees the need to take the wind out of the…

Good News for Anxious Christians, 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary

Cary, a philosophy professor at Eastern University, challenges what he calls “the new evangelical theology” which is “a set of supposedly practical ideas about transforming your life that gets in the way of believing the gospel” (p. x).  The techniques that he covers “all have the characteristic that they turn you away from external things like the word of God, Christ in the flesh, and the life of the church, in order to seek God in your heart, your life, your experience.  Underneath a lot of talk about being personal with God, it’s a spirituality that actually leaves you alone with yourself” (p. xi). With this premise in mind Cary goes on to attack ten “sacred cows” of the new evangelicalism.  As a college professor he constantly sees these faulty ways of Christian living and thinking in his students.  These young people have grown up in an evangelical environment that…

Evangelical Hermeneutics and the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by Rynold D. Dean. Iron River, WI: Veritypath Publications, 2010. 251 pp. paper $24.99

Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser states, “The relationship between the OT and the NT stands as one of the foremost, if not the leading, problems in biblical research of this century” (p. 1).  Rynold Dean tackles this thorny issue by first lamenting that there has been a recent shift within evangelicalism away from the past understanding of biblical interpretation controlled by context, meaning and inspiration (pp. 7, 12-13, 19). The author rejects postmodern hermeneutics that has infiltrated much of modern scholarship, both secular and biblical, and states his position that the intention of the authors (of Scripture) is what is found in the written text  and each text has one definite meaning (pp. 43, 46, 50, 52). With these presuppositions in mind Evangelical Hermeneutics goes on to explain and analyze six major views within conservative evangelicalism concerning the New Testament writers use of the Old Testament: 1. Contemporary Judaism/Second Temple Hermeneutics…

Grace Is for Sinners by Serena Woods

Grace Is for Sinners tells the story of Serena Woods.  Woods’ childhood was nothing short of horrific which led to many of her tragic choices.  But by God’s grace she came to Christ as a young woman and according to her testimony was growing rapidly in the Lord.  She married, had an aspiring career as an actress and a sweet life.  Then in three weeks she had an affair with her best friend’s husband, became pregnant and her world fell apart.  But this book is not so much about her failures as about her perceived failure of Christian friends toward her during this period in her life.  The book is poorly written with a huge number of broken sentences, wrong punctuation and incomplete thoughts which are all very distracting.  But I see at least two positives.  First, Woods seems sincere in her efforts to convince God’s people to extend grace…

Slave by John MacArthur

For various reasons English translations of the Bible, going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it, have mistranslated the Greek word doulos.  Doulos means slave, yet virtually all English translations substitute “servant” even though there are at least six Greek words for servant and doulos is not one of them (pp. 15-16).  The net result of this mistranslation is a misunderstanding of the Christian’s status before the Lord.  Servants are hired, can quit, have certain rights and can refuse to obey.  Slaves are owned, have no rights and quit or disobey only at their own peril.  MacArthur has done us a great favor by reintroducing this truth to the people of God.  If we do not know our spiritual identity we will inevitably be confused in our Christian walk.  Unfortunately most of us have a misconception of what slavery meant when the New…

Growing a Wise Family, 100 Devotionals from the Book of Proverbs by Bryan R. Coupland

Our congregation has recently been involved in a special emphasis on the family.  As our leadership has sought ways of helping and encouraging the parents within our flock to raise their children for Christ we were in search of some material to use for family instruction.  We did not want to use a catechism but struggled to discover other appropriate aids.  That is when Bryan Coupland’s book found its way into my study and our search was over. The title is developed around 100 proverbs, each to be used in family instruction.  Each proverb is explained and well illustrated by the author.  At the end of each study three well chosen, age-appropriate discussion questions are provided.  The author then offers suggested answers to each question. Bryan Coupland writes well.  He is interesting, biblical and creative.  I found his book easy to use and of real value.  He wrote the book…

The Gospel of the Christ by Thomas L. Stegall

Stegall, a former member of the Grace Evangelical Society (p. 21), has written a massive (almost 800 pages) book challenging the relatively new understanding of the gospel as promoted by Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin.  The subtitle says it well, “A Biblical Response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith.” According to Stegall the crossless gospel proponents, as stated by Hodges, believe “all forms of the gospel that require greater content to faith in Christ than the Gospel of John requires, are flawed” (p. 31).  Using John 6:47 as the essence of the gospel (p. 86), crossless adherents believe that “a lost person can receive eternal life by ‘faith alone in Christ alone,’” yet without needing to believe in or even know about Christ’s person and work (p. 32). In order to come to this conclusion, crossless teachers twist numerous Scriptures from their obvious soteriological meanings to…

Relationships, A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp

Relationships is vintage Paul Tripp.  He (along with co-author Tim Lane) takes the same principles that he most clearly articulated in his signature work Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands and applies them more specifically in each of his other books.  Whether the topic is marriage, midlife, parenting or relationships, the problems and solutions are the same.  The aim of the book is stated in the first chapter: This book will help you look through the shattered glass of our sin to see the glory of a Redeemer who is ever-present, always at work to rescue and change us (p. 2). Lane and Tripp attempt to accomplish their goal through a number of means.  First, they pull the rug out from under our cherished misconceptions.  For example, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself” (p. 7).  They remind us that…

Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall

This volume is the second in a three book series dealing directly with the writings of the church fathers.  The first in the set is Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and the final is Praying with the Church Fathers. For an individual to be considered a father of the church he had to meet four qualifications:  Antiquity (from A.D. 96 to John of Damascus (750)), holiness of life, orthodox doctrine and ecclesiastical approval (pp. 20-21).  Hall’s approach in his series is not a hop-skip through ancient church history taking a quote here and there from numerous fathers, but rather a focus on a few (primarily Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome) as they were specifically involved in various issues.  With this approach in mind Hall deals with several theological issues:  Christ, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, salvation, God’s providence, the Scriptures,…

The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology, a Comparison Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters

Dr. Waters, who wrote an excellent book critiquing the New Perspective on Paul entitled Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: a Review and Response, has rendered a similar service in respect to the Federal Vision.  The Federal Vision overlaps in many areas with the New Perspective (pp. 2-6, 57, 63-76, 274-277), but the two systems are not synonymous.  The Federal Vision is more of an intramural debate among those in the covenantal camp as is reflected not only in the title but in the many discussions throughout the book related to covenant theology and the Westminster Confession.  Waters attempts to frame the Federal Vision proponents as emerging from the “theonomy” wing of Reformed theology (pp. 6, 292, 296) but does not pay adequate attention to the subject to prove his case, in my opinion. What Waters does pay massive amounts of attention to is the convoluted sacramentalism promoted by…

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Machen’s great classic, published in 1923 at the height of the Fundamentalist/ Liberal battle, has been reviewed far too many times to need much comment by me.  However, in the face of new waves of liberalism sweeping over the evangelical community, Christianity and Liberalism is as relevant today as when it was written.  Indeed there is an eerie sense of déjà vu as Machen identifies the apostasies of old liberalism that have resurfaced in the new liberalism of the emergent church and other movements.  A quick listing of some of these issues will show the similarities.  Old liberalism taught: 1. A sentimental religion (p. xi); Christianity is life, not doctrine (pp. 17, 38-39).2. That doctrines are unimportant (pp. 5-6, 16-24, 43, 47) and experience, not truth, is what matters (p. xiv).  Yet liberalism uses evangelical terminology which makes it all the more dangerous.3. That tolerance is more important than truth (pp. 15, 40-45).4. That…

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

Radical has been a New York Times bestseller and is reminiscent of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in its call for radical lifestyle changes, especially in material ways, and in spreading a two-tiered gospel of reconciliation with God and caring for the poor.  I appreciated Radical more because it is less condemnatory, legalistic and guilt-driven.  In addition the true gospel is better explained and emphasized (pp. 30-36; 143-160).  In fact Platt clearly remarks, “People’s greatest need in the world is Christ.  To meet people’s temporary needs apart from serving their eternal spiritual need misses the point of holistic biblical giving” (p. 195). I believe the author is on target to call God’s people to examine their materialism and take appropriate biblical steps to prioritize their finances to maximize the spreading of the gospel (pp. 127-128, 194-196).  Platt is also correct that Jesus’ “megastrategy” was to make disciples (pp. 90-106); a fancy…

Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church Edited by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock

This volume, when published in 1992, signaled a new era for dispensational theology.  While dispensationalism, as framed by John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie and Dwight Pentecost, had already been altered in many ways from its original form as developed and popularized by Charles Darby, Lewis Chafer and C. I. Scofield, this new understanding, known by most as “progressive dispensationalism” restructured the system’s approach to Scripture in radical new directions.  Bruce Waltke’s response to David Turner’s chapter on the New Jerusalem, which portrays Israel and the church as one people of God, states, “This position is closer to covenant theology than to dispensationalism” (p. 348).  This comment could serve as a summary for the entire book. Written by ten theologians who have credentials in the dispensational camp, and responded to by three Reformed scholars, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church is a heavy read.  Subjects covered include the present reign of Christ, the…

The Duties of Parents by J. C. Ryle

In 1888 famed British Pastor J. C. Ryle wrote a little booklet on parenting that is remarkably up to date.  Ryle offers 17 biblical and highly practical principles that will aid any Christian parent in their efforts to raise godly children.  The booklet is barely 50 pages long but could revolutionize many a home if taken seriously and applied. 

Perspectives on Family Ministry–3 Views edited by Timothy Paul Jones

For decades throughout North America the emphasis in youth ministry has been on numbers, excitement and fun.  But more and more church leaders have come to recognize that such an emphasis does not develop disciples.  As a result the current conversation centers on how we must structure our ministries so that our children grow up to love and serve Christ.  What is being recognized by many is that the missing ingredient in discipleship of children is the family.  The church has often operated as if it was the primary means of spiritual development of youth and therefore parents must relinquish that role to youth pastors and leaders.  But Scripture is clear that the parents, and especially fathers, are the primary discipleship-makers of children.  With this in mind a number of approaches dedicated to returning to family-oriented spiritual development have emerged.  The three most prominent of these are detailed and debated…

Free Grace Soteriology by David R. Anderson. Xulon Press, 2010. 384 pp. cloth $24.08

While everyone within conservative evangelicalism agrees that salvation comes as a gift of God’s grace and is received by faith alone, there is much disagreement concerning the content and results of saving faith.  On one side stand the “Lordship” salvationists who insist that saving faith includes repentance from sin and obedience resulting in spiritual fruit which verifies regeneration.  At the other side are those who espouse “Free Grace” soteriology.  The defenders of “Free Grace” are concerned that the Lordshipers have, in their zeal to assure authentic faith, gone too far and added works to faith.  Free Grace leaders define faith as belief, trust and appropriation.  However, repentance usually is either not part of the salvation process or is defined as changing one’s mind about who Jesus Christ is.  Fruit is not inevitable and some true Christians never evidence any sign of regeneration while others may completely apostatize and yet still…

What He Must Be…if he wants to marry my daughter by Voddie Baucham

Voddie Baucham, well-known author dealing with family related issues, has an eighteen year old daughter—old enough to begin contemplating marriage.  While Baucham’s daughter has never dated, her father knows those days, and ultimately marriage, cannot be far off, especially with Baucham’s acceptance, even promotion, of early marriages.  With all this in mind What He Must Be is dealing with the qualifications necessary of a man who would marry his daughter and, of course by extension, the characteristics any Christian young woman should be looking for in a husband. The stated premise of the book however goes deeper:  “I believe fathers have a God-given responsibility to see to it that their daughters marry well and that their sons become worthy husbands” (p. 27).  While most Christian fathers would pay lip-service to this premise, Baucham makes it a central focus of his life.  He does well in this book by encouraging other…

Everyday Talk by John A. Younts

Everyday Talk is a helpful little book based on Deuteronomy 6:6-7 and directed at parents raising children.  The key to parenting, Younts insists, is to have the commands of God in their hearts and to impress those commands on their children (pp. 13-14).  Parents do this best through everyday communication as they instruct their children in the ways of God in the normal activities of life.  The things of God are best explained as we work, play, eat, deal with joy and sorrow and generally work though issues of living.  Younts does not address the subject of family worship (sometimes called the family altar) nor does he offer a complicated program.  Instead Younts believes the best means of influencing our children for Christ is through simple God-centered communication.  For example, the parent is to help their child see the fingerprints of God in creation, in disappointment, in failure or success…

Without Sin, the Life and Death of the Oneida Community by Spencer Klaw

Klaw has written a very informational book describing one of the most intriguing religious experiments in history.  In the wake of the revivalism of the so-called Second Great Awakening in America some 40 utopian societies were founded.  Almost all of these (Brook Farm being a notable exception) were spiritual communities, many looking for, or attempting to establish, the kingdom of God on earth.  It was as if the revivalistic fires that were best represented by Charles Finney had destroyed true Christian fervor, leaving behind scorched ground ripe for strange movements to spring to life.  The “Burnt Over District” of New York State was home to more than its share of these movements, cults and utopian experiments.  Of utopian communities none was more successful than Oneida.  Founded in 1848 by perfectionist proponent John Humphrey Noyes, it would continue until 1880 when it voted itself out of existence and became the Oneida…

Family Integraded Church by J. Mark Fox

I believe this book is mistitled.  Rather than a detailed study of how to structure and run a family-integrated local church, Fox has given us a chronicle of the history and philosophy of the church he has pastored for 18 years.  To be sure, one of the key components of Antioch Community Church is the centrality of the family and the importance of parents, particularly fathers, to disciple their own children.  But the book is much broader than that and includes his view on everything from elders to church finances to body life to church planting.  The majority of Fox’s ecclesiastical philosophy is grounded in Scripture and well worth considering.  Many pastors and churches would benefit by adopting much of Fox’s understanding of the New Testament church.  Fox uses a folksy writing style which might appeal to some but may seem a little casual to others.   He talks about the…

Simply by Grace by Charles C. Bing

Simply by Grace is a clear, simple book on the gospel message and what it means to be saved.  It covers many primary subjects well: salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, assurance of salvation, the importance of good works as a Christian and the rewards to follow, walking in freedom, our identity in Christ, etc.  The book could serve as a helpful resource for new Christians. However, in Bing’s attempt to avoid the error of works salvation he tips too far in the opposite direction.  “Belief in Christ as Savior is the one condition for salvation” (p. 109) he proclaims, and he is correct.  But he never explains what he means by belief or faith.  He denies that works is an evidence of salvation (pp. 85-87) due to the subjective nature of works—how many are enough, what is the motivation and so forth.  He even writes…

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr.: Crossway Books, 2007. 224 pp.,  Cloth $19.99 Baucham is well known in Christian circles as a strong advocate for the family, homeschooling and the family-integrated approach to church life.  He is a Southern Baptist who by age 34 had served on numerous church staffs. Baucham’s overall emphasis on family is welcomed and refreshing.  In a world, including a Christian culture, gone mad over success, sports, money and endless activity, it is good to be encouraged to slow down and evaluate what is important in life.  When we look into Scripture we discover that the Lord is not particularly interested in what drives most people.  Translated into the family structure this means that God does not place a premium on Christian parents raising children to be sports-stars, achieving the American-dream, or embracing a worldview of the society around us.  The Lord places a premium…

In Light of Eternity, Perspectives on Heaven by Randy Alcorn

Alcorn, clearly one of evangelicalism’s most gifted writers, often turns his attention to the glories of heaven.  He has written several novels dealing with heaven including, Deadline and The Edge of Eternity and a rather large study on the subject entitled simply Heaven.  In Light of Eternity is a scaled down or abbreviated version of Heaven. Overall, the book is quite helpful.  In a Christian publishing world wrapped up with life on earth and best selling authors such as Joel Osteen promising us our “Best Life Now,” it is refreshing to read a solid book on the next life.  Alcorn interacts with much Scripture, offering moving illustrations, valuable quotes and insights worth pondering.  It should be mentioned that some of his insights are closer to speculation than fact (e.g. pp. 30, 48-49, 79, 94-101).  For example, when Billy Graham is asked by a child whether or not her dog would…

Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong by John MacArthur

While John MacArthur is credited as the principle author of this book he writes only the introduction and two chapters out of twenty.  The rest of the book is written by staff members of Grace Community Church or are revisions of positional papers from the church that MacArthur pastors.  The volume offers a solid conservative biblical response to some of the hot button issues facing the church, and the world, today. Right Thinking is organized around four parts: entertainment and leisure, morality and ethics, politics and activism, and tragedy and suffering.  Many chapters present strong challenges to our culture, as well as culturally influenced evangelical communities, including subjects such as entertainment, celebritism, homosexuality, the environmental movement and mercy ministries.  Other chapters provide helpful insights concerning controversial issues such as internet dating, video games, in vitro fertilization, birth control, passive euthanasia, global warming, racism, and illegal immigration.  The final section addresses…

The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard

Out of his own struggle with sin Lundgaard turned to the great Puritan John Owen for help.  He devoured Owen’s books Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin with apparently great personal benefit.   But realizing that few would wade through these tomes Lundgaard decided to “kidnap” Owen (p. 14) and simplify his teaching through use of modern language and examples.  I think he went a little overboard in this regard but overall he succeeds in his purpose. The Enemy Within describes well the struggle that every believer has with sin.  Suitable warnings of sin’s deception are given and many means of dealing with sin are identified.  I don’t believe this little volume offered anything new but it serves as a good overview of biblical teaching, even though  I was a bit disturbed by several Old Testament references taken out of context.  Most of these texts were addressed to Israel concerning…

What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

My first exposure to this well written book was from one of the pastors at our church who lamented that such a book even needed to be written.  We are almost two thousand years on this side of the cross and we are still debating why Jesus came.  Of course this should not surprise us given the vast importance of the gospel and our fierce enemy who does all in his power to keep mankind in spiritual darkness.  So it is with open arms that we welcome Gilbert’s clear presentation of the gospel as found in Scripture. What Is the Gospel? is part of the 9Marks series of books which has two basic premises:  The local church is far more important to the Christian life than many Christians realize and local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their ministries around God’s Word (p. 11).  To this end…

Our Legacy, The History of Christian Doctrine by John D. Hannah

John Hannah, professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, has provided the serious student of the Word a valuable tool in Our Legacy.  In approximately 350 pages Hannah is able to give a reliable and objective synopsis of the history and development of seven essential doctrines:  Scripture, the Godhead, the person and work of Christ, salvation, the church and end times.  Hannah maintains that the earliest church fathers believed and proclaimed the core teachings of Scripture but did not explore detail or systematize theology until forced to do so when contrarian opinions and false teachings arose.  As the need became evident the truths of Scripture were studied and hammered out and stated in various creeds.  But as new challenges and disagreements developed various wings of theological expression sprang up.  Hannah identifies many of the key views and theologians that have influenced theological thought by discussing them within the periods…

Transitioning by Dan Southerland

Transitioning has been a popular book since the beginning of the 21st century, detailing how a church can transition from a traditional to a purpose-driven model and thus experience phenomenal growth and success (p. 151).  Transitioning is a simplified version of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church with a heavy dose of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God thrown in for good measure.  The result is a book heavy on vision, methodology and technique and light on biblical exposition. Southerland would protest this last sentence even though he believes that the first reformation was about the message, this second one (the one he is heralding) is about method (p. 14).  He would protest because his book is liberally sprinkled with Scripture passages and because the whole book is loosely wrapped around the Old Testament book of Nehemiah.  Unfortunately, with rare exception, all of Southerland’s scattered quotations are either out of context or misinterpreted…

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

Although Bridges wrote The Pursuit of Holiness in 1978 it remains a helpful and pertinent tool in the Christian’s progress toward godliness.  It offers profound yet simple and practical discernment into how the child of God is to grow in Christ-likeness. “To be holy is to be morally blameless,” Bridges tells us.  “It is to be separated from sin and, therefore, consecrated to God” (p. 19).  Few would argue with this definition; the problem is in the “How?”  To this question many opinions and theological systems have been offered throughout the ages.  Bridges presents a solid and biblical balance between “just do it” and “let go and let God” (pp. 21, 53-54, 82-85).  Since much errant teaching has been promoted at these two extremes, I found Bridges’ explanations to be one of the most helpful parts of his book. Another valuable balance is struck in relationship to holiness and salvation.…

The Courage to Be Protestant by David F. Wells

David F. Wells, the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is one prolific writer.  For some forty years he has addressed some of the thorniest subjects in theology with a sincere pastoral heart for the church. Wells could well be considered the one Christian writer who over the past 20 years best articulates the pulse of evangelicalism in this world. Whether or not one agrees with Wells, one thing is for sure, he will make you think. The current book under review, The Courage to Be Protestant, is a volume which builds on four previous books by Wells: No Place for Truth (1993); God in the Wasteland (1994); Losing Our Virtue (1999); and Above All Earthly Pow’rs (2005). In No Place for Truth Wells provides a keen study of evangelicalism in the 1990’s. Then in God in the Wasteland the author rightly portrays…

The End of Education by Neil Postman

Postman, author of insightful books such as Amusing Ourselves to Death and The Disappearance of Childhood, stretches our minds again in this volume.  Postman does not really believe that education has ended but he argues for an educational system that asks different questions, and looks for different results than is common today. Due to my assumption that few will read this review I will not elaborate further except to say that anyone involved in education would benefit from working through Postman’s thoughts on the subject.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

The basic thesis of Crazy Love is sound.  Since God loves us with a crazy, inexplicable love, our love for Him should be just as crazy and our resultant lifestyle should be radical in its sacrifice for Christ.  Chan has no patience for “lukewarm Christians” (pp.  22, 65-88, 97-98), who are chasing the American dream rather than passionately following Christ.  This is an important and needed message for many in the Western church today, which may explain the popularity of Crazy Love, especially among the youth, many of whom are not content with the status quo.  In attempting to stress his theme and persuade his audience Chan does well in pointing us to the greatness of God (pp. 30-38), telling us “frankly, you need to get over yourself…your part is to bring Him glory” (p. 44).  So far so good; sadly not much else is helpful in Crazy Love. Crazy…

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian D. McLaren

McLaren continues to redefine the Christian faith in this latest effort, which follows up his book Everything Must Change.  Under McLaren’s pen Christianity as defined in the Bible is now totally unrecognizable.  Without question McLaren has walked away from biblical Christianity, so much so that even Scott McKnight writes a semi-negative review in Christianity Today (March, 2010). A New Kind of Christianity is structured around ten questions that the author constantly fields at his lectures (pp. 18-23) leading to the proposal of a new thesis (the 96th, tacking on to Luther’s 95 theses): It is time for a new question, a quest across denominations around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.   The book is filled with McLaren’s trademarks: extreme and bizarre straw men (pp. 6-7,…

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

It was suggested to me recently that Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was the most valuable book for those interested in biblical counseling.  Having read numerous books on the subject I was somewhat skeptical of that assessment; having now read the book I would have to agree. If there is a complete volume on biblical counseling this is it.  Tripp writes well, is faithful to Scripture (with a couple of exceptions), provides much biblical insight, offers case studies, gives practical tools and develops an overall framework for counseling those in need.  Tripp’s premise is that our problems flow from our hearts.  If we are to help people live to the glory of God and handle their troubles properly we must address the heart.  We must expose what is in the heart, analyze what is found in light of Scripture, and call for a biblical response. This emphasis on the heart…

Churchill by Paul Johnson

Winston Churchill is surely one of the greatest men of the twentieth century.  In his lifetime he wrote and published nearly 10 million words and, most likely, as many words have been written about him.  So why another biography on the famous politician, author, orator and military tactician?  Primarily because an excellent and yet short account of Churchill’s life was needed.  In 168 well-written and enjoyable pages Paul Johnson has captured the essence of Churchill’s life.  Most of us do not have the time or interest to read thousands of pages on one man’s life, but a volume of this size is not only readable but gives all the details necessary to grasp who Churchill was and what made him the man who will be remembered throughout the ages.  Johnson does not paint Churchill without flaws, as he clearly shows the weaknesses of the man.  But his admiration for Churchill…

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews

In recent times the so-called “new atheists,” most notably Richard Dawkins, have launched an aggressive attack on the existence of God in general and the God of the Bible in particular.  In books such as Dawkins’ The God Delusion, the “new atheists” have taken their agenda to the masses with a popular writing style that is both winsome and distortive.  Wrapping their arguments in scientific concepts outside the realm of most people’s expertise, they have been able to shake the faith of many and make their conclusions appear indisputable.  It is within this context that we wholeheartedly welcome Who Made God?  Edgar Andrews is himself a highly regarded scientist, often serving as an expert witness in court cases in Great Britain, USA and Canada, and even has had the opportunity of formal debate with Richard Dawkins.  He is a man who understands science and is not deceived by high-sounding arguments…

The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

This volume is a sequel to Christless Christianity in which Horton admonished the evangelical community for leaving Christ out of, or at least on the fringes of, its ministries and message.  In The Gospel-Driven Life Horton delivers on his promise to show us the way back—and forward.  It was written for those tired of the hype and chasing the latest fad (pp. 13, 17) who simply want “to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death in His Son, Jesus Christ” (p. 11). I believe Horton accomplished his stated goal, hammering home over and over from every conceivable angle that the essence of Christianity is the good news (p. 20).  The author persistently points the believer to the external facts of Christ and His redemptive work and away from an inner, subjective introspection.  He challenges…

The Pre-Wrath Rapture View, An Examination and Critique by Renald E. Showers

In the 1980s the late Robert Van Kampen, well-known investor and founder of the Van Kampen family of mutual funds, developed a new eschatological view he called “Pre-Wrath Rapture.”  He was able to persuade Marvin Rosenthal, then director of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, to adopt and popularize this view.  Since that time, to my knowledge no denomination, seminary, Bible college, mission organization or theological scholar of note has accepted the Pre-Wrath view.  However, a small pocket of believers is enthusiastic about the system.  It is for this set of believers that Showers has written The Pre-Wrath Rapture View. Showers, who has for many years served on the staff of The Friends of Israel as well as on the faculties of several Bible colleges, has spent much of his life studying end-times issues.  As a result he is uniquely qualified to critique the Pre-Wrath Rapture view and his critique…

Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger

I began reading Simple Church with high expectations.  I like the basic concept, as I understand it, and even “borrowed” the name to entitle a sermon I recently preached on Acts 2:43 which identified the essential ministries of the local church (evangelism, prayer, study of Scripture, fellowship and the ordinances).  To me this defines what the church should be—the simple church.  Unfortunately, what I read in Simple Church did not take the reader back to the New Testament for its paradigm but to extensive research mostly within the Southern Baptist Convention.  The result was a mixed bag, and this should be expected given the authors’ premise that “research seeks to discover truth” (p. 197).  This is clearly a flawed statement.  At best research reveals facts, more likely trends.  Only the Word of God can give us truth.  By looking to research instead of Scripture for “truth” we must expect the…

Longing for God by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe

There are two stated purposes for this book:  First to explain the seven paths to God that have developed throughout Christian history and secondly to awaken readers so that they may grow in knowledge, understanding and commitment to God and to wrestle with the depth and riches the writers show-cased in this volume.  These purposes are fulfilled by presenting the seven primary paths to God, which according to the authors are: • The right ordering of our love for God • The spiritual life as journey • The recovery of knowledge of God lost in the Fall • Intimacy with Jesus Christ • The right ordering of our experience of God • Action and contemplation • Divine ascent For each pathway represented, short biographies and overviews of the writings of three or four individuals are given to explain what each entails.  The majority of the twenty-six persons highlighted would be from the contemplative/mystical stream of Christian history;…

The Christian and Social Responsibility by Charles Ryrie

While all Christians understand the importance of spreading the gospel they are not always in agreement concerning what the gospel is.  The Lausanne Covenant states, “World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world” (p. 14).  John R. W. Stott explains this statement: “I now see more clearly that not only the consequences of the commission but the actual commission itself must be understood to include social as well as evangelistic responsibilities” (p. 18).  As is reflected in these quotes evangelicals increasingly understand the gospel to include social implications.  The gospel is not only concerned with man’s spiritual condition but also with his physical.    Ryrie disagrees.  Through careful examination of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, Ryrie finds no evidence that the church is called to solve the social ills of the world.  Believers are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ…

Practical Aspects of Pastoral Theology, General Editor Christopher Cone

This volume, authored by 17 different individuals, is exactly what it claims to be, a guide based on Scripture for the practical aspects of pastoral life and ministry.  Nineteen topics are addressed, from what a pastor is to priorities in the ministry to the role of the pastor’s wife to church discipline to missions to the dangers of pornography.  While the writing is a bit uneven and there exists some overlap, expected in multi-authored works, most chapters are quite helpful.  Pastors and church leaders will find themselves returning to specific chapters which speak to their need of the moment. The authors all hold to a high view of Scripture which shape both their theology and practical application.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s chapter, “Israelology and the Pastoral Role,” offered the most controversial claims.  Not all would agree that, even today when presenting the gospel in a new area, it must first be given…

Revival by Martin Lloyd-Jones

Several years ago, while preaching through the book of Romans, I determined to read through Martin Lloyd-Jones’s eight volume set of commentaries on the first eight chapters of that great epistle.  While I did not always agree with Lloyd-Jones, I found the first seven volumes covering Romans 1-7 rich and rewarding.  He constantly hammered home the importance of grounding everything in Scripture rather than following the fads and wisdom of the times.  Shockingly, in his commentary on chapter eight, Lloyd-Jones reversed course, substituting eisegesis for exegesis.  This is because he allowed his particular view on revival to shape his understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit.  And Lloyd-Jones’s view of revival has been shaped by his take on church history rather than Scripture. In Revival we see the same pattern, just a little more comprehensively.  The book is based on several Old Testament stories and some of the most…

Death by Love, by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

In this volume Mark Driscoll, with help from professor Gerry Breshears, clarifies many of his theological positions via a unique format: personal letters.  He explains that each of the twelve chapters “begins with the introduction of someone I have worked with in my role as one of the pastors at Mars Hill Church.  I then proceed to write a personal letter to him or her explaining one side of the great jewel of the cross so that the person and work of Jesus are made intensely practical for that person’s life” (p. 13). In many ways this proves to be a good approach as the truth of Scripture is personalized and thus more easily applied.  Driscoll’s trade-mark “in-your-face” personality shows up regularly, but not to the level of crudeness for which he has become (in)famous.  He pulls few punches, but compassion shines through as well. Theologically, Driscoll is largely on…

Fasting by Scott McKnight

Fasting is one of eight books in “The Ancient Practices Series” published by Thomas Nelson under the general editorship of Phyllis Tickle.  The idea behind this series is that there are seven ancient practices, or disciplines, coming out of Judaism and taught and observed by the ancient church, that need to be incorporated into the lives of Christians today.  Brian McLaren wrote the initial book in the series, mapping out the purpose and direction for the other volumes on individual disciplines.  Fasting is McKnight’s assignment. McKnight‘s approach and emphasis concerning fasting is somewhat unique among Christian thinkers, both past and present.  He attempts, with limited success, to develop three stages of fasting which he labels “A,”  “B” and “C.”  The idea is that fasting is merely the natural, inevitable response of a person (“A”) to a grievous or sacred moment (such as sorrow or spiritual desire) (“B”), which may or…

The Cross of Christ by J. R.W. Stott

The Cross of Christ is surely one of the finest books ever written on this most central theme of the Christian faith.  It provides deep insights and practical guidance at every turn and does so in very readable form.  Not only is this rather large volume theologically sound but the reader will also repeatedly pause to worship the One who has done so much for us. The book is developed around four parts beginning with an overview of church history and the early foundational role of the cross.  The middle two sections systemize the scriptural teaching concerning the cross, showing both the need for Christ’s death and what it achieved.  The final part applies Christ’s cross-work to our lives as Christians.  What Stott endeavors to show from beginning to end is that Christ’s death was a substitutionary atonement (p. 16). Part one introduces Stott’s great theme and concludes with this…

Meetings That Work by Alexander Strauch

Strauch has written a most helpful manual that accomplishes exactly what its subtitle states – “A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings.”  Any board of elder would benefit from reading and implementing the ideas in this little (90 pages) book. In general, Meetings That Work presents both biblical and practical helps for elder meetings.  Biblically, Meetings That Work is right on the money. For example, Strauch writes:  Redesign meetings and agendas to represent what the Bible  says the role of elders should be…meetings will deal with truly important issues: defining and clarifying the church’s beliefs and principles of ministry, developing a distinctive mission and  vision, evaluating major ministries, improving pastoral care, and  planning for the future. (p. 42) Strauch continues by identifying the three core responsibilities of elders:  people, prayer and the Word. (pp. 42-49). On the practical side Meetings That Work deals with everything from frequency of meetings, record keeping, developing an…

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam by Patrick Sookhdeo

In less than 90 pages Patrick Sookhdeo gives his readers a handy primer to Islam.  Covered is Islam’s origins, history, major beliefs and customs, as well as guidance on witnessing to Muslims and caring for new converts.  A useful glossary of Islamic terms is included, as well as a short chronology of Mohammad’s life and a historical development of Islamic sects. With the exception of the implication that some Muslim’s come to Christ through the means of dreams and visions (p. 73), I believe this little volume provides an excellent understanding of the Islamic religion. 

Christian Faith 101, the Basics and Beyond by Steven Tsoukalas

Tsoukalas has written a brief primer (barely over 100 pages) on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  His focus is on three major doctrines: the Godhead (with separate chapters on each member of the Trinity), the person and work of Christ, and salvation.  He closes with a practical chapter on living the Christian life and the role of the church. The format used is quite helpful.  Each chapter is broken into four sections:  “The Basics” (which details the essentials of that particular doctrine), “Beyond the Basics” (which handles some deeper material), “For Discussion” (for use by group studies) and “Meditations” (which attempts to provide means of application). Theologically the book is right on target and who has its best use among those new to the faith or in need of a short refresher.  There were, however, a few statements to which I take exception: • I believe Tsoukalas goes beyond…

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Strobel was for many years an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  He was converted after carefully examining the evidence for the claims of Christ as found in Scripture and subsequently became a minister.  In The Case for Christ, he uses his investigative training and skills to lead his readers through the same spiritual journey that he traveled some twenty years ago. The author’s methodology was to interview some thirteen scholars and authorities over a two year span.  He endeavored to match the best evangelical thinkers in each field under his study.  The result is a highly readable and reliable manual which presents documented evidence, from the reliability of the biblical texts to archaeology to the historicity of Jesus to the resurrection.  Many questions posed by the skeptics are given excellent answers and resources for further study and therefore, The Case for Christ is helpful to the Christian needing answers…

The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy

In recent years much debate has taken place within evangelical circles concerning what Christ actually accomplished on the cross.  A number of factors has brought this debate to a head: a feminist charge that traditional atonement theories encourage abuse, radical new ideas that reject conservative views, the fact that Scripture itself offers several images to explain the atonement and the growing popularity of the Christus Victor understanding (pp. 9-12).  It is the goal of this book to sort through four of the most widely held theories of the atonement held by conservative Christians.  The method used is to follow four scholars who respectively explain and defend the four theories.  Each position is then critiqued by the other three theologians.  This allows for a healthy exchange of ideas and solid rebuttals by those who have carefully studied all the pertinent issues.  The four views under discussion are:  • Christus Victor represented by…

Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren

Everything Must Change is a large diverse work in which McLaren dabbles in everything from economics to politics to the eco-system to Jesus.  The author believes our planet is facing a perfect storm (his words) involving crises of four kinds.  He calls them: • Prosperity crisis—an unsustainable global economy that is overwhelming the environmental resources. • Equity crisis—caused by the growing gap between the rich and the poor with respective fear and resentment. • Security crisis—War and violence is the inevitable outcome of the equity crisis.  • Spiritual crisis—World religions, including and especially Christianity, have failed to address these issues with Jesus’ “framing story,” i.e. worldview. It is these four crises that McLaren believes desperately need to be addressed, but Christianity has misunderstood what Jesus wants us to say about these issues.  We need to rescue Jesus from our false understanding about Him and what He taught (pp. 72-73).  Jesus true “framing story” must…

Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias

In a pluralistic society all religions are equally true.  Zacharias claims that this is an impossibility because the various religions do not give the same answers to the vital issues and questions which confront life.  When these issues are thoroughly worked out, it is discovered that Jesus Christ is unique—He is not like other gods, nor is His message the same as other religions. To demonstrate this thesis Zacharias considers six questions that Jesus answered differently from all other major religious.  Jesus’ answers prove His uniqueness but, more than that, they provide evidence for His claims.  The questions deal with: • The false claim of pluralism.• The true claims of Christ.• The purpose of life.• Troublesome concerns such as pain and evil.• The role of our presuppositions.• The inroads of Eastern religions into the Western world. Zacharias defends the Christian faith primarily from the accounts found in the Gospels and then contrasts these findings with the…

Pierced for Our Transgressions, Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach

Debate concerning Christ’s cross work has become intense of late.  The traditional view, often termed penal substitutionary atonement, has been accepted and taught by the evangelical church throughout the ages but is now under open attack.  The doctrine of penal substitution states that “God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin” (p. 21).  Certainly there is nothing new about this.  One only has to note higher-critical attacks which poured out of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (forming “old” liberalism) to see a parallel.  For “old” liberalism to be successful penal substitution had to be jettisoned.  As any student of church history knows, as liberalism won the theological and denomination battles, new movements, denominations, churches and organizations were created which maintained fundamental doctrinal stances.  Those taking their stand on the…

Heavens on Earth, Utopian Communities in America, 1960-1880 by Mark Holloway

In the 1800s America could boast of over 100 utopian communities with a total combined membership of over 100,000.  The founders of these societies usually came from Europe in their quest to establish heaven on earth in small communities of like-minded people.  Almost all of these efforts were religious in nature, adopted some form of voluntary communism and had aberrant views of sex—often advocating celibacy or, at best, tolerance of marital relationships or the other extreme, free love. Holloway examines the most important nineteenth-century utopian communities including the Shakers, New Harmony, Fourierism, Brook Farm, Bishop Hill, Amana and Oneida.  A brief history of each society is given along with its basic beliefs and reasons for its demise. Eventually the idealism behind such efforts faded away along with optimism of the times and such utopians ceased being attempted.  Heavens on Earth is a very interesting history of a unique period in American…

The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel

The Case for the Real Jesus is Lee Strobel’s follow-up to his excellent 1998 book The Case for Christ.  This volume seeks to answer some of the more recent objections to Christianity popularized largely through the internet, novels such as The DaVinci Code and new aggressive forms of atheism.  Skeptics, taking advantage of the ignorance and gullibility of many, have been able to plant seeds of doubt in and occasionally shipwreck the faith of some through unsubstantiated claims, poor but impressive sounding scholarship, and distortion of the truth.  Strobel attempts to counteract these attacks on Christianity through the same methodology as in his previous book: interview the best conservative Christian scholars on the subjects of their expertise.  The result is most gratifying as the myths, rumors, misrepresentations and false claims melt away quickly when exposed to the light of truth. This volume deals with six major challenges to Jesus and…

Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? by Walter J. Chantry

Originally published in 1970, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? has been reprinted seven times by The Banner of Truth Trust; the most recent reprint being in 1997. The author, Walter J. Chantry, has a Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and has pastored Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania since 1963.  Among his other responsibilities, he currently serves as editor of the monthly “Banner of Truth” magazine from Banner of Truth Trust publications.  Today’s Gospel is a short book, only 93 pages in all, with large print.  It is an exposition of Jesus’ conversation with the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17–27 and each chapter discusses different portions of this dialogue.  After brief explanations of each verse, the author then proceeds to discuss how those truths relate to today’s evangelism.  Jesus’ exchange with the wealthy young man was an evangelistic one and this book seeks to apply the…

Living at the Crossroads: and Introduction to Christian Worldview by Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew

Professor Jay Wegter, in his review* of this book, was impressed by the amount of cultural analysis and worldview information packed into little more than 200 pages.  The authors’ purpose is “to seek to carry on in the worldview-conscious tradition of James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, whose aim was simply to shine the brightest possible light on the Christian church’s mission in the public life of culture” (p. XIII).  While this may have been the aim of the authors I believe their understanding of worldview and missions is actually shaped far more by Lesslie Newbigin, the former officer of the World Council of Churches and missionary to India.  Newbigin is mentioned on at least 18 pages and is footnoted 31 times.  Given Newbigin’s associations and influence on the emerging church this should send up red flags to anyone reading this volume.  This does not immediately imply that the authors’ or…

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton

Barton is a well-known contemplative church leader who has served on the staff at Willow Creek Community Church and is now president of her own organization, The Transforming Center.  The Transforming Center attempts to “shape and care for the souls of clergy” mainly through teaching them spiritual disciplines (p. 229).  This particular book is published by InterVarsity Press’s formatio division which is dedicated to spiritual formation through following the “rich tradition” of the spiritual disciplines as formulated and propagated by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox monks, nuns and the “desert fathers.” With this background, it is not difficult to imagine where Strengthening the Soul is headed, even before opening the book.  Barton states the thesis as, “To guide you into encounters with God in the places where you need it most in the context of your leadership” (p. 17).  While this is a rather benign thesis, and while Barton offers…

The Coming Apocalypse: A study of Replacement Theology vs. God’s Faithfulness in the End-Times by Renald Showers

In the Western world at least, in which racism is one of the few forbidden sins, the recent rise in anti-Semitism is perplexing.  How can civilized, educated, tolerant and pluralistic people despise a race of people solely because of their ethical lineage?  But for those who understand the biblical teaching concerning Israel there is no surprise.  Unfortunately due to myriad of reasons from biblical illiteracy, to the popularity of Replacement Theology, to lack of interest in prophetic teaching, to an unwillingness to wade through massive tomes on the subject, the average Christian has little understanding of Israel’s past, present or future. Enter Dr. Showers’ highly readable yet concise overview of Israel’s God-ordained role throughout biblical times, today and as related to end times.  Showers aptly demonstrates that Israel has been, and remains, at the core of God’s plans for mankind. The Coming Apocalypse begins with a clear and forcible challenge…

The Spirit of Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Reviewed by Bob DeWaay Published by Twin City FellowshipCritical Issues CommentaryP.O. Box 26127 St. Louis Park, MN 55426 Practices called “spiritual disciplines” that are deemed necessary for “spiritual formation” have entered evangelicalism. Recent encounters with this teaching narrated to me by friends caused me to investigate these practices. The first experience involved my friend and co-worker Ryan Habbena who went back to seminary to finish his masters degree. Here is his experience in his own words: I recently took a seminary course on the book of Luke. It was a summer intensive and was one of only two classes being offered at the time. About midway through the week, while the class was steeped in trying to discern the intent and significance of the book of Luke, we began to hear the echoes of mystic chanting coming through the walls. As it turned out, the other class being offered was…

The Attentive Life, Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by Leighton Ford

I am often asked my opinion about particular Christian leaders.  I am hesitant to answer such questions because “the times [and people] they are a-changing.”  A case in point is Leighton Ford.  Ford is best known as an effective evangelist who has been closely associated with Billy Graham.  Throughout his long ministry (he is now approaching 80) he has had the reputation of one who preached an uncompromising gospel message, even if some of his ecclesiastical associations were compromised in the process.  It would appear that it has been these compromised associations that has led to Ford’s spiritual position as outlined in this book. The Attentive Life gets top-billing in the recent advertisement release by InterVarsity Press promoting the formatio series of books which they claim “follow the rich tradition of the church in the journey of spiritual formation” (p. 229).  What is really taking place is that, under the…

Life with God, Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation by Richard J. Foster

Life with God was published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Foster’s first and best-known book, Celebration of Discipline.  The original volume in many ways changed the landscape of evangelical Christianity by introducing “Christian” mystics, mostly from Roman Catholicism, to evangelicalism.  Accompanying the mystics was the idea, heavily promoted by Foster, Dallas Willard and others, that mysticism offers a superior way of knowing God than other Christian traditions.  In just three short decades since the publication of Celebration of Discipline mysticism has infiltrated virtually every Protestant denomination, school and organization.  Life with God is Foster’s latest attempt to keep the mystical ball rolling. Foster is correct to state that the Bible should not be studied for knowledge alone (p. 4), although I can’t think of anybody who teaches anything close to this.  Nor does Foster deny the value of Bible study, although he warns that we should not try…

When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey

Harvey has written a solid, biblical book based on a dual premise.  First, as per the title, all marriages are the union of two sinners, therefore problems are inevitable because in the heart of each of us resides a sinner (p. 51).  Harvey does not deny the transforming work of the Holy Spirit which is ever drawing us nearer to Christlikeness (p. 140), but a battle with sin rages in the heart of God’s children.  When sin gets the upper hand, not only do we offend a holy God, but we bring damage to others including our spouse.  Wise then is the couple which recognizes that two sinners united as one will sin against one another, bringing pain and hurt.  But all is not lost, for the second premise, “What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage” (p. 20), offers great hope.  Marital happiness and fruitfulness is…

TheoPhostic Counseling (Divine Revelation? Or Psycho Heresy?) by Martin and Deidre Bobgan

TheoPhostic counseling is a Christianized form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Ed Smith in 1996.  Smith claimed that he received his system as a direct revelation from God apparently given in February of that year (pp. 7-8).  Its success rate, according to Smith, is nothing short of astounding.  Much of the burden of the Bobgans’ book is to challenge these claims, but first what is TheoPhostic counseling?  This brief description is given:  Present problems are due to past (usually early-life) events, early interpretations of those events (“lies”), and their accompanying emotions.  The “lies,” which drive present thinking, feeling, and behaving, are embedded in early-life memories, located in the “dark room,” which must be accessed through “drifting” into the past in search of early “memory pictures” that feel the same as the negative feeling accompanying the present problematic situation.  During this search, the client is encouraged to find Jesus and describe…

The Burned-Over District (The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850) by Whitney R. Cross

The Burned-Over District is a description of the religious character of Western New York during the first half of the 19th century (p. vii).  The events and movements in the Burned-over District have left an astounding impact on the religious, political and social development of American culture.  Prohibition, emancipation of the slaves, numerous cults and utopian societies, and several questionable Christian methodologies and theologies all find their roots in this exciting time and place.  Cross, who never tips his hand to reveal his own spiritual allegiance, begins with the Great Revival of 1799-1800 (what many call the Second Great Awakening).  While Kentucky got most of the attention from historians, Cross makes a case that the most significant affect of the Great Revival was found in Western New York.  The Revival spawned a desire for “enthusiastic” expressions of Christianity which would define the first half of the 19th century.  In the…

Christless Christianity (The Alternative Gospel of the American Church) by Michael Horton

Horton comes out with both guns blazing in this critical analysis of the church in America.  As the title suggests, he is accusing the church of being nothing less than “Christless.”  That is, the church has become so distracted by everything from false teaching (examples given include Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer) to energy-sapping programs, to faulty understanding of the purpose and mission of the church, that it has lost Christ Himself in the mix.  Christianity need not explicitly deny any key foundational teaching to become Christless; it merely needs to buy into a “series of subtle distortions and not-so-subtle distractions” (p. 20).  “My argument in this book,” Horton writes, “is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (p. 23).  It is for this reason that “precisely the most numerically successful versions of religion will be the least tethered to the biblical drama…

The Excellent Wife a Biblical Perspective (Expanded Edition) by Martha Peace

Martha Peace has done Christian marriage a great favor by accumulating and explaining the biblical teachings and principles for being a godly wife.  The Word of God is clear when it comes to roles and responsibilities, and Peace has written a valuable book to remind women of their biblical role.  The Excellent Wife is comprehensively filled with Scripture, exhortation and practical advice.  It is also counter–cultural.  Even some within evangelical circles will bristle at Peace’s strong emphasis on submission, being workers at home and other duties seen today as subservient by many.  But Peace refuses to compromise, laying out the biblical mandates as she comprehends them and, with a handful of exceptions, I believe she understands the Scripture’s teachings correctly.  Any concerns I have about Peace’s teachings are minor in nature.  For example,   I would question her suggestion that a wife should “think about what you would like for him…

Sabbath by Dan Allender

Sabbath is the third volume in the Ancient Practice series published by Thomas Nelson, the first of which is Finding Our Way Again written by Brian McLaren. Allender is the founder and president of Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle (no connection to Mars Hill Church pastored by Mark Driscoll). Allender develops his book around three core premises: keeping the Sabbath is a commandment and thus is incumbent upon every child of God; the Sabbath is to be a day dedicated to delight; and the Sabbath is a feast day which remembers our leisure in Eden and anticipates our play in the new heavens and earth (p. xiii). It is important to note that Allender does not draw any of his premises from Scripture but rather from Jewish tradition (pp. 11-12), ancient and modern practices and rituals created and imagined by Allender and those in his mystically oriented camp. For…

Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini

This is one of the most celebrated and helpful biographies of Andrew Jackson available today. Remini pulls no punches, painting Jackson as a great hero, a powerful President of the people, and yet deeply flawed in many ways. Of particular interest at our present time is to observe how an 18th century President dealt with an economic collapse and banking crisis similar to one we are experiencing in the 21st century. Perhaps our leaders could learn a thing or two from Jackson.

Growing Souls, Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli

  Mark Yaconelli, in conjunction with San Francisco Theological Seminary and with the financial support of the Lilly Endowment, began in 1997 The Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project for the purpose of developing, field testing and promoting a mystical/contemplative approach to youth ministry. That the aims of the project have been successful is evident in Yaconelli’s conclusion: Ten years ago you would’ve been hard pressed to find a labyrinth or even a candle in a youth room…Taizé music, lectio divina, and spiritual direction were all viewed with suspicion and regarded as a return to ancient pagan practices. We’ve come a long way, baby. Now youth ministry conferences and catalogs offer labyrinth kits, scented prayer candles, and journals with orthodox icons on the cover and quotes from [mystical] classics (pp 278-279). Exactly what is this contemplative approach to the Christian life? It is hard to say, for as Roman Catholic monk…

John Owen, the Man and His Theology Edited by Robert W. Oliver

John Owen is considered one of the greatest theologians of any era, yet until the reprinting of his Works in the mid 1960s few would have recognized his name (p. 72). John Owen, the Man and His Theology serves as a great introduction to this man and his influence on theological thought. It is written by five scholars, each examining different facets of Owen’s life. Chapter one provides a brief biography while chapter two is an overview of Owen’s theology. The remaining four chapters deal with particular doctrines to which Owen devoted much attention: the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures (in reaction to the newly formed Quakers’ movement) and the church, respectively. Owen thought deeply about and wrestled powerfully with these doctrines and he has left us much to ponder. This excellent little volume goes a long way toward demonstrating why he and his work are still…

Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli

Yaconelli has drunk deeply from the cesspool of Roman Catholic mysticism. Unfortunately, he has only sipped at the well of Scripture. What can I say? This book, written by the son of Youth Specialties founder Mike Yaconelli, is a handbook for mysticism (with traces of the emerging church) adapted for youth ministry. It is virtually devoid of biblical passages but absolutely full of references to mystics and their mystical teachings and practices. Every so often Yaconelli ventures into Scripture, but almost always with disastrous consequences. It amazes me how someone who is devoted to “professional ministry” is capable of fumbling every passage of Scripture he handles. It is obvious that Yaconelli has no concept of hermeneutics or true understanding of God’s Word, but he is adept at all things mystical. Avoid like the plague.

Christ and Culture Revisited by D. A. Carson

More than fifty years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote Christ and Culture (see my review) which became the definitive work on how Christians are to interact with their culture. Niebuhr offered five options, illustrating each with individual leaders from church history, and, where possible, from Scripture. D. A. Carson has decided to revisit Niebuhr’s conclusions with less than a sanguine evaluation. To Carson, one of Niebuhr’s categories is unbiblical while each of the other four can be found, to some degree, in Scripture (pp. 60, 200, 206). To camp on any one of Niebuhr’s possibilities, to the exclusion of the other three biblical alternatives, would be pure reductionism, something Carson carefully wants to avoid (pp. 82, 145, 225-226). Carson meanders in his examination, chasing down definitions of culture (pp. 1-2, 68-85), postmodernism (pp. 87-94), secularization (p. 116), and authentic Christianity (p. 121), and interacting with key cultural leaders such as…

All Old Testament Laws Cancelled; 24 Reasons Why All O.T. Laws Are Cancelled and All N.T. Laws Are for Our Obedience by Greg Gibson

Gibson has written this book from the New Covenant Theology position, which lies somewhere between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.  Its basic creed accepts the five solas of the Reformers (Scripture, grace, faith, Christ and glory to God alone).  In addition, it rejects infant baptism and all Old Testament laws as binding on the New Testament believer (p. 7).  This particular volume is interested in challenging Covenant Theology’s understanding of the Mosaic Law.  The author states his thesis as, “All Old Testament commands are cancelled, and all New Testament commands are for our obedience” (p. 10).  He sees Douglas Moo as being in line with this thesis, “The entire Mosaic Law comes to fulfillment in Christ, and this fulfillment means that the Law is no longer a direct and immediate source of, or judge of, the conduct of God’s people.  Christian behavior, rather, is now guided directly by ‘the law of…

Spiritual Gifts by Renald E. Showers

In a mere sixty pages, Renald Showers has provided for the people of God one of the finest treatments of spiritual gifts available. The booklet is thoroughly biblical, well reasoned, logically ordered and very readable. Showers begins with a general definition of spiritual gifts, their purpose and function. In the opening pages he lays the groundwork for his later discussion of tongues and prophecy by distinguishing edifying gifts from sign gifts. Every spiritual gift, he explains, was given for the purpose of ministering to others, never ourselves (p. 8). In the second chapter, Showers indicates that spiritual gifts are sovereignly distributed (although, I could wish he had discussed 1 Cor 12:31 and 14:1 more thoroughly) and outlines the biblical teaching on spiritual gifts. In chapters three and four, he makes the case for the cessation of certain gifts in general and revelational gifts in particular. In light of well-respected evangelicals…

Jonathan Edwards, the Younger: 1745-1801 by Robert L. Ferm

While almost everyone knows of Jonathan Edwards, very few have heard of his son Jonathan Edwards Junior, although he was an influential theologian and pastor in his own right. His life began as the embers of the First Great Awakening were dying and ended as the flames of the Second Great Awakening were igniting. More importantly, he was a key player during a theologically volatile time, as Calvinism split into old Calvinist and New Divinity camps and the surge of Arminianism changed evangelicalism. Edwards was constantly in the mix of these theological debates attempting to defend his father’s New Divinity position, even as he altered it to a more legalistic stance. Like his father, Edwards also served many years as a pastor and for a short time as a seminary president, but his legacy lies in his contributions to the changing face of the American theological landscape during the second…

Scripture Alone by R. C. Sproul

This is a handy little volume defending the evangelical doctrine of sola Scriptura. Sproul provides a short history and some of the challenges to sola Scriptura(chapter 1), discusses the formation of the canon (chapter 2), builds a case for inerrancy (chapter 3), devotes chapter 4 to the internal testimony of the Spirit to the authority of Scripture, and then spends the remainder of the book detailing the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The Chicago Statement was written by a team of more than 200 evangelical scholars in 1978 to “affirm that ‘the authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age’” (p. 121). This has proven to be one of the finest documents on the nature of Scripture ever written, and we should be appreciative of Sproul’s explanation. Scripture Alone is a most helpful volume on the Word. My only criticism is that…

Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt

Yoga has become wildly popular in the West in recent years, promoted as a science and an exercise program conducive to good health. Dave Hunt, in this well researched book, wants us to know that yoga has its roots in, and is the very heart of, Hinduism. Its goal is to get in touch with a god or gods and to experience enlightenment – oneness with the universe (p. 35). While physical yoga is advertised as stretching exercise and quiet meditation to slow us down and bring calmness in the midst of a hectic world, the facts are that physical yoga is designed to lead to spiritual yoga (pp. 18, 92, 152-153). Thus, yoga can easily become a gateway to Eastern mysticism. Christians involved in yoga, or contemplating such, would do well to read and digest what Hunt has to say and flee any form of yoga. As Hunt writes,…

The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller has pastored Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan since 1989. In the course of twenty years in New York, Keller has encountered many skeptics who vocalized sincere concerns about the Christian faith. The Reason for Goddescribes Keller’s approach to handling the most pressing questions of our time, especially those of young people. The first half of the book deals with what Keller believes to be the seven biggest objective doubts about Christianity: exclusivity, suffering, absolute truth claims, injustice, judgment and hell, science in opposition to Scripture, and literal interpretation of the Bible. The second half of the book is devoted to examining the arguments underlying Christian beliefs. Through use of personal conversations and careful reasoning, Keller not only provides helpful answers to good questions, he also demonstrates for us how to dialogue with those who have rejected biblical teachings. There is much to commend about The Reason for God.…

Y2K: A Reasoned Response to Mass Hysteria by Dave Hunt

Hunt takes a far more moderate approach than many to the computer glitch now referred to as Y2K. He quotes generously from those who foresee great disaster as the world approaches the year 2000, but he firmly disagrees with their scenario. The views of the doomsayers are based, Hunt believes, on misinformation and/or dated reports. If all the facts are gathered, and the many “silver bullets” are factored in, the author believes Y2K would be foreseen as a bump in the road, not a catastrophic cavern looming just ahead waiting to swallow all of civilization. This book is well footnoted and documented, as are all of Hunt’s works. Hunt does tend to go off on tangents, write in circles and repeat the same information throughout the book. But he gets his thesis across, and his judgment is well worth considering. Personally, I believe that Hunt is right on the money.…

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Seven Habits is one of the most successful and widely acclaimed books in the success literature genre. Even in fundamental Christian circles it ha received strong endorsements. So I had to see what all the excitement was about for myself. On the positive side I greatly appreciate Covey’s emphasis on character development as opposed to personality development (pp.18ff). In the past our society was concerned with the development of the inner man but for the last 50 years the superficial, outward appearance has taken center stage. Covey’s book is a call back to a former time in which real success came from within. I found the book to be full of many practical and useful suggestions that would aid anyone in having an effective life. Things like putting first things first, seeking to understand others before being understood, and taking time to “sharpen the saw” (i.e. personal preparation for a…

The Pocket University by Several

The Pocket University, first published in 1923, is a collection of some of the finest pieces of literature in the English language. Within its first 22 volumes are 1380 masterpieces just waiting to teach, inspire and give us enjoyment. Volume 23, a classic in itself, emphasizes the joy of reading, and also includes a systematic reading schedule that would guide a reader through all 22 volumes in one year. The concept of The Pocket University is that if a person would devote 15-30 minutes per day reading the very best in literature they would have the equivalent of a liberal arts education (p. 81). The opening words of Volume 23 are, “Here are three services which books may render in the home: They may be ornaments, tools or friends.” The Pocket University offers us an exceptional opportunity to make some friends.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

There goes another millionaire, that guy in his $2000 suit, driving his BMW to his home in the fanciest part of town. Right? Not likely. According to the authors of this fascinating book the millionaire is probably the guy behind him in his three-year-old Chevy, wearing casual clothing and living in a middle class neighborhood. Why is that true? Because the typical millionaire has learned to live well below his income and is not anxious to impress people with his money, which he has earned through hard work and risk. The first guy is probably a millionaire want-a-be who is in debt up to his $50 tie, leasing a car that he really can’t afford, living in a house that is beyond his means, and generally caught up in a lifestyle that will ensure that he never makes it to millionaire row. These are the kinds of things we may…

The Millennium Bug by Michael S. Hyatt

Hyatt is “convinced that Y2K problems presents us with, potentially, the most significant, extensive, and disruptive crisis we have ever faced (p. xix).” He has written this best seller in order “to lay the facts before you, help you understand how they will affect you, and then help you decide what you must do – personally” (p. xviii). Just in case you personally decide to take drastic steps, Hyatt has a web site which sells the “Countdown to Chaos Protection Kit,” a six-audio-tape set plus an accompanying handbook, complete with “recommendations, checklist, and the essential resources and supplies you’ll need to survive this looming crisis” – for $89 (Wall Street Journal 1/21/99). “When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000, computer systems all over the world will begin spewing out bad data – or stop working altogether! When this happens, it will be similar to a giant hard-disk failure:…

The Melungeons by N. Brent Kennedy

An interesting account of the possible origins of the mysterious Melungeons. Kennedy traces the incomplete record of this race of people found mostly in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, all the way back to the 15th century. This is also the sorry story of the discrimination against the Melungeons, which in many ways rivals that of the Blacks and possibly exceeds that of the American Indian.

The Hedge of Thorns by Mark Hamby

This is a supposed true account of John Carrol and his sister Bell who lived in 17th century England. Taken from Carrol’s own account and first published in 1819 by John Hatchard, the story has been rewritten and published by Mark Hamby for modern readers. This is a highly moving little story of a literal hedge of thorns designed to protect travelers from perils that lay beyond, but which became most harmful when transgressed. Carrol’s sad encounter with the thorn hedge as a child foreshadows his spiritual experience as a young man. Had he learned the lesson the literal thorns could have taught he would have been spared the tragic consequences of later years. This book is written that others might learn the lessons John Carrol disregarded. A most interesting story.

Still Waters by W. Phillip Keller

Warning! This book may be hazardous to your peace of mind. I picked up Still Waters thinking that it would be a devotional work along the line of the author’s famous and excellent, A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty Third Psalm, but quickly realized that this was a totally different kind of book. Still Waters is the account of Keller’s and his second wife’s escape from the noise, busyness and rush of modern society. They bought a comfortable cabin in a beautiful wooded area beside a small lake, where they explore and enjoy all the aspects of this life of quietness and solitude. Keller details these wonders in chapters filled with the glories of nature. This book is not about God or Christian living as such; it is about rest and quiet. On the positive side it is well written and interesting. On the negative it creates a great longing…

Seabiscuit, an American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

For anyone who loves sports in general and the history of horse racing in particular, Seabiscuit is a classic. This is a meticulously researched true account that reads like a fast-paced novel. It is a nonfiction story that is better than fiction. Seabiscuit, for the uninitiated, was arguably the third best racehorse to have ever run, behind only Man of War and Secretariat. He ran in the 1930s where his exploits electrified and depressed a nation.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Have you ever considered reading a book on punctuation? No? You will change your mind if you read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Truss’ book has been a best seller in England for some time, but has jumped the pond and is now a hit in America. Truss actually teaches sound principles concerning punctuation and makes it enjoyable. I would recommend this book for anyone who writes as part of his job or ministry. For that matter, anyone who wants to write in proper form will benefit from this volume.

Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals by William J. Bennett

Of all the books that have been, and will be, written on Bill Clinton and his scandalized Presidency, surely this one will reign supreme. Written by a man with a strong political background and author of the Book of Virtues, Bennett has become the unofficial keeper of the moral flame in Washington. While not a Christian, to my knowledge, most believers will line up with his view of values, and will applaud what he has to say in The Death of Outrage. Bennett rightly recognizes that we are fast becoming a nation of people who believe that economic stability is vastly more important than personal character. “If these arguments take root in American soil,” so writes Bennett, “If they become the coin of the public realm – we will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did” (p.9). For, says our author, “In America, morality…

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Common Sense, the famous “pamphlet” published on January 10, 1776 by Thomas Paine, was a powerful call for American independence from England. It met with immediate success and had numerous reprints, tipping the scales in the minds of many toward the Revolution. At the same time it brought resolve and courage to those who fought for the cause. In Paine’s mind it made common sense to rebel against England. It was the right time; America had the necessary resources; the monarchy of England was a governmental system to avoid; even God and Scripture were on the side of the colonies. Paine appealed to the pride of Americans, their natural rights, the benefit of national debt, their financial well-being, their aspirations for the future, as well as their common sense to move for independence without delay. As he intoned in the appendix of a subsequent edition of Common Sense, “We have…

Building the Kingdom of God on Earth by Martin Erdmann

Building the Kingdom of God on Earth is an excellent work which informs us of the past and gives us much to consider for the future. Erdmann writes of the era when World War I was approaching and a number of influential people gave thought to what could possibly abolish war and solve most of the world’s social ills. Following the Great War it was determined by many that only a “new world order” could accomplish such a feat. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles many felt the seeds for the next world war were planted and, as the next twenty years demonstrated, they were correct. Something had to be done about war and its lasting devastation. A new world order was urgently needed but standing in its way was the issue of nationalism. John Foster Dulles, the principle mover behind the new world order, believed the “solution…

America, Oil, And the Islamic Mind by Michael Youssef

This is an excellent little primer outlining the basic beliefs of the Islamic religion. In addition the reader is given a brief history of Islam and a peek into the mindset of the Muslim people. The biggest drawback is that it was last updated following the Gulf War in 1991, so what has happened since is, of course, not discussed. Still, I found Youssef’s understanding of how the Islamic people think, and why they are in constant conflict with the West, to be up to speed with modern times.

Who are the Puritans? by Erroll Hulse

This is a wonderful primer on the life and beliefs of the early English Puritans. The book is broken into thee parts. Part 1 gives a brief history of the Puritan movement. Part 2 contains a great number of short biographies of the prominent Puritans. This is an invaluable resource. The final part deals with the beliefs of the Puritans from the Westminster Confession to marriage and the family. Beyond question the Puritan era is one of the most fascinating in church history. This book will go a long way towards helping the reader get a handle on these committed people of God.

When the Fire Fell by R. Maurice Smith

The last great revival in the Western world recognized by non-charismatics was the Welsh Revival of 1904. Many longingly look back to that “outpouring of the Spirit of God” and cry out to God for something similar today. With this in mind I have recently begun a study of the Welsh Revival, this being one of the volumes that I have read. Smith defines a “revival” as, “An out-pouring of the Spirit of God at a time and upon a people of God’s own sovereign choosing, resulting in the spiritual renewal of believers and the evangelization of unbelievers” (p.22). The Welsh Revival has been called the “Singing Revival.” Three-fourths of the meeting consists of singing” (p.88). “Evan Roberts himself felt singing to be of massive importance for the release of God’s power (p.78).” The Revival, “followed the line of singing, not preaching” (p.78). For the most part the author tells…

Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George M. Marsden

Marsden lays out the thesis of his book in its opening sentence: “This book provides an overview of the history of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism plus interpretations of some important themes.” As promised, much of the book (part one) is an excellent historical account of the origins and development of both the fundamental and evangelical movements in America. I found this section extremely valuable and filed away for future reference many important pieces of information. On the other hand, part two, dealing with interpretation, was somewhat disappointing. While still packed full of helpful historical data, the problem lay in the interpretation. Marsden is considered one of the foremost authorities on fundamentalism and has written a number of books on the subject. However, he is not himself a fundamentalist and his perspective as an evangelical peering into the fundamentalist camp is often evident. This is especially obvious when he attempts to…

The Transformation of American Religion by Alan Wolfe

The message of this book, Alan Wolfe tells us, is that religion in the United States is being transformed in remarkable ways (p. 3). By that Wolfe means that both traditional American religions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism) are changing to accommodate the culture; and that the religions flooding into our borders (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) are also being transformed as they melt into the American pot. The result is fewer and fewer distinctions between religions, but more importantly, fewer distinctions between religions and the culture. The vital message of the book for evangelical Christians is that our culture is rapidly defining the church, rather than the church impacting society. The church is becoming a place where people are given what they want in Christian-like wrapping. Or as one Baptist megachurch minister put it, “I take what is worldly, and baptize it” (p. 195). Wolfe is a remarkable discerner of our times. He…

The Smell of Sawdust by Richard J. Mouw

Mouw is a conflicted man. He has a love/hate relationship with Fundamentalism and he doesn’t know quite what to do with it. On the one hand he was saved and discipled by Fundamentalists who taught him to love the Lord, cherish the Bible and reach out to people. He knows that many of the stereotypes concerning Fundamentalism are nothing short of slander. Still he faults Fundamentalists for their anti-intellectualism, worldliness, separatist spirit, “false-witness-bearing” toward other Christians, their view of Israel and Jews and dispensationalism. At the same time, from the perspective of one who has observed for decades both the changing world and the views of Fundamentalism, he admits they have been right far more than wrong but seldom get credit. Not only have their pronouncements and predictions come true but their love for Christ and His Word has remained constant. They are people of conviction, and willing to lose…

The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark A. Noll

The Rise of Evangelicalism is the first in a series of five volumes dealing with the history of evangelicalism since the Great Awakening. Each volume will be authored by a different scholar and should be a valuable tool toward the understanding of recent church history in Great Britain and North America. In this particular volume Noll centers on the time of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Wesleys. He by no means fixates on these men alone, exploring many trails that help to define and shape what we call evangelicalism today. Noll is a careful church historian and an excellent writer. Great profit can be found in reading his works and this is no exception. I look forward to the next four volumes in the series, the second of which (The Dominance of Evangelicalism) is now in print.

The Quest for Revival by Ron McIntosh

The thesis of this book, written by a Pentecostal evangelist with strong ties to Oral Roberts, is that we can learn much, and be empowered by, the revivals of the past. The “revivals” that McIntosh has in mind, however, are the healing revivals of the twentieth century, principally those of the 1940s and 50s. The Quest for Revival chronicles the lives of the healing evangelists and gives brief histories of strong movements within Pentecostalism. While the book is a tragedy with regards to biblical truth there are two areas in which I give the author high marks. First, he provides an interesting, if biased, study of people and events related to the revivals under consideration. Secondly, McIntosh is willing to expose the failures of his heroes, even if his explanation for their failures misses the mark. Unless someone is doing research on this subject, The Quest for Revival can be…

The Fundamentalist Movement 1930-1956 by Louis Gasper

Gasper has written a very useful and accurate description of the early years of the Fundamentalist movement spanning from the Fundamentalist-Modernists Controversy to the raise of evangelist Billy Graham. This volume explains well the issues, personalities, divisions, and evolution of the first three decades of Fundamentalism. It certainly filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of the movement.

The Expansion of Evangelicalism, the Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney by John Wolffe

This is the second volume in the five volume series, “A History of Evangelicalism,” and covers the history of evangelicalism from the 1790s to the 1840s. Wolffe, professor of religious history at The Open University in England, chooses to discuss the movement of evangelicalism during this period by tracing various historic threads which helped shape Christianity in the English-speaking world. These threads include revivals and revivalism, the place of women within the church (a number of influential women are discussed), evangelicalism’s affect on society, especially the slavery issues and abolition, and attempts at unity as the evangelical church became more diverse and increasingly splintered. Not everyone will be pleased with this approach as so many things outside these threads are neglected but, in fairness, with any attempt at covering 50 years of evangelical history in 250 pages the author is forced to choose some elements and ignore others. Overall, Wolffe…

The Dominance of Evangelicalism, The Age of Spurgeon and Moody by David W. Bebbington

This, the third volume in the “A History of Evangelicalism” series, outlines the exciting nineteenth century developments within Christianity. Bebbington provides four marks that identified evangelicals: their belief in the inspiration and final authority of the Bible, the centrality of the cross and the substitutionary death of Christ, conversion of the lost by faith alone, and activism—an urgency to spread the message of Christ throughout the world. As a result of these characteristics there was a remarkable unity among evangelicals. Even amidst the diversity of doctrinal opinion and philosophical differences, there was a commonality focused around the gospel. Nevertheless, intramural battles were often volatile. For one thing, Western society was shifting from the “age of reason” (the Enlightenment) to Romanticism with its minimizing of reason and focusing on will, spirit, emotion and imagination (pp. 148, 162-166). It was also the era in which Calvinism began to decay and was rapidly…

The Awakening in Wales by Jessie Penn-Lewis

Jessie Penn-Lewis was one of the major players during the Welsh Revival of 1904. While still in the wake of that movement, Penn-Lewis writes this account to chronicle what she believes was an incredible working of the Holy Spirit. In our day many look back on the Welsh Revival with awe, believing that it was an outpouring of God second only to The Great Awakening. But a careful examination of The Awakening in Wales shows it to be not dissimilar to the Brownsville Revival of our day. Both are filled with bad theology, emotional and physical excesses, demonic activity, and false signs and wonders. The connection between the birth of the Pentecostal movement in America and the Welsh Revival is obvious but usually ignored by modern revivalists. What disappoints me the most about such literature is the blatant dishonesty. Penn-Lewis does not record the fallout from this Awakening. Nor does…

So Great Salvation by Charles G. Finney

So Great Salvation is a collection of evangelistic sermons by the famous nineteenth century revivalist Charles Finney. As might be expected his passion for the lost is clearly demonstrated. Unfortunately, Finney is not a careful student of Scripture and his sloppy exegesis is apparent throughout the book. Finney was well known for his promotion of extreme Arminianism which appears often (pp. 13, 14, 25, 41, 57-58, 108, 126). Finney’s theological perspective led to the creation of a host of methods designed to persuade people of their need for Christ. Under Finney’s system the proclaimer of the gospel needs to use whatever means possible to “make his moral nature sensitive…” “This is the true secret of promoting revivals” (p. 126). Finney would take this so far as to believe that revival was the result of using proper technique, not necessarily springing from the power of God. Much of Finney’s legacy lives…

Puritans and Calvinism by Peter Toon

There are six characteristics of a true Puritan according to our author: a commitment to the Bible as the Word of God; a commitment to Reformed theology (not necessarily 5-point Calvinism); a desire for a reformed, national Church of England; a belief in the necessity of personal regeneration; a need of reformation at the national, local and domestic level by means of legislation, catechizing, religion in the home and fervent prayer and fasting; a strong sense that the last days had dawned or were about to dawn. By this definition Puritans are only truly to be located in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Puritans and Calvinism traces the roots, victories, defeats, developments and divisions of Puritanism. Some of the many things that I learned from this book are: The difference between Presbyterian and Congregationalist Puritans; many of the issues that motivated the Puritan movement revolved around ritualistic observances that they…

Josephus, the Essential Works by Paul L. Maier

The historical accounts of ancient Jewish history written by Flavius Josephus have long been recognized as invaluable resources to those wanting to understand biblical times. Josephus is undoubtedly the most reliable (but not infallible) extrabiblical author of Jewish antiquity. He lived during the first century, having been born shortly after the time of Jesus. He wrote numerous volumes which were eventually organized into two great books; the first, entitled The Jewish War, chronicles the war with Rome that resulted in the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people in A.D. 70. The second is called Jewish Antiquities and covers many events from creation to the outbreak of war with Rome. While extremely valuable for the understanding of biblical times, few Bible students have actually read these volumes due to the great length, redundancy, overlap with Scripture, tendencies to exaggerate, and sheer weight of peripheral details and matters…

John Knox in Controversy by Hugh Watt

The title explains perfectly the content of this little book. This is not a biography of John Knox but rather an overview of four major controversies or confrontations that he encountered as he led the Reformation in Scotland in the sixteenth century. A fuller understanding of Knox’s life is needed to get a decent handle on the events found in this volume. Only a church history buff would find much interest in this work.

Inventing the “Great Awakening” by Frank Lambert

In American revival history the Great Awakening (a term actually applied one hundred years later to the New England revival of the 1730s and 1740s) is the Holy Grail. It is the revival by which all other revivals are compared, the revival of the type that so many seek today. Other revivals have come and gone. They are debatable, even within revival oriented circles. But not the Great Awakening. It is considered, beyond question, to have been one of the greatest movements of God in church history, on par with Pentecost and the Reformation. So when Frank Lambert dares to title a book Inventing the “Great Awakening”he is truly invading holy ground. Holy grounds are places where you take your shoes off, not where you drop kick sacred church history. But Lambert does it anyway, and he does it well. Using abundant primary sources Lambert espouses a different understanding than…

Fundamentalism and American Culture, the Shaping of the Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 by George M. Marsden

Marsden has become the unofficial church historian dealing with Fundamentalism. This particular volume, which concerns itself with the origins and early days of the Fundamentalist movement, is one of Marsden’s best efforts. While Marsden is not a Fundamentalist himself (and at times it shows) for the most part he is fairly objective. He recognizes that while the movement was a reaction to cultural changes and influenced by philosophical theories such as Scottish Common Sense Realism (pp. 14-16), it nevertheless grew primarily out of a literal understanding of Scripture. Fundamentalism’s roots are traced to Calvinism, the Holiness Movement and Dispensationalism. As the movement began to crystallize it became predominately premillenial with Dispensationalism leading the way. However, strong Reformed Calvinists such as J. Gresham Machen would play a vital role, especially on the intellectual side. Theologically, Fundamentalism was largely a reaction to growing liberalism of the late 1800s and its Social Gospel.…

Fire on the Altar by Noel Gibbard

Fire on the Altar is a brief historical account of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival. The Welsh Revival is of particular interest because it is considered by many to be the last great evangelical revival in the Western world. Many today desire and pray for this very kind of revival. So what was it like? Was it a true revival from the Spirit of God or a sham? Unfortunately Gibbard’s account did not answer these questions. It reads more like a newspaper documentation detailing the where, what and when but seldom dips below the surface. What were the leaders of the Revival, especially Evan Roberts, really like? We discover that he was a recent convert (p. 30), was quite eccentric (pp. 44, 46, 76-80, 85-87, 153) and suffered a nervous breakdown toward the end of the Revival (p. 190), but little more. What was the theology behind the Revival? Once again…

Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 by Iain H. Murray

One of the finest Christian historians/theologians writing today is without a doubt Iain Murray. He researches thoroughly, is solidly biblical and is not afraid to write the truth. Evangelicalism Divided, A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 is an excellent example of his work. Of particular interest to many will be the record of Billy Graham’s slide from a biblically fundamental position to that of ecumenicalism and inclusiveism (pp. 28ff, 58-78). This is of special help because Murray is not writing from a “fighting fundy” position, but as a Reformed conservative from Great Britain. His warning to present day compromisers is sharp and painful. “No one thought that the sending of the names of those who made ‘decisions’ back to Roman Catholic Churches would lead to Billy Graham being prepared to share a platform with the Pope, but it did” (p. 304). Of course, Billy Graham…

Defence of the Truth by Michael Haykin

This is a marvelous little book (only 129 pages) which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today. Some of the key characters found in Haykin’s book include those we term the “Church Fathers:” Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, Athanasius, Augustine and Patrick. The value of the book is multi-facet. We are provided with: • Information concerning some of the heresies and challenges which faced the early church. • Sketches of the lives of several Church Fathers, as well as their antagonists. • Details of how some important doctrines (the Trinity in particular) were debated and ultimately accepted. • A general history of the first centuries of Christianity. I particularly found the story of the ebb and flow of premillennialism very interesting, The Defence of the Truth is an excellent…

A Concise History of Christian Thought by Tony Lane

Church historian Tony Lane has supplied us with a marvelous account of church history from the Church Fathers to modern times. He arranges his book according to individuals, highlighting key players in church history, briefly identifying their views, major works and influence. Along the way important events such as church councils, creeds and confessions are referenced as well. This approach has the effect of linking movers and shakers of the church with the development and formation of theology through time. It would be hard to recommend this volume too highly. It is a thorough, delight to read and a great reference tool. There are few weaknesses, although I will mention two disappointing omissions. First, there is no index. This will greatly hamper the student doing research. Second, although the book was published in 2006, Lane ends his treatment of church history with the ecumenical movement in 1999. As a result,…

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel

If you are looking for a Louis L’Amour storyline, this isn’t your book. If you are looking for authentic accounts of the mid-1800s wagon trains on their journeys west and that from the perspective of the women travelers, you have come to the right place. As the title implies this is not a novel but true stories as found in the diaries of women who made this incredible expedition. What these women had to endure, how they managed (toting along numerous children and often pregnant), how they buried their young and sometimes their husbands on the trail and then stoically continued their journey, is like nothing portrayed in the movies. In our cushy little world it is hard to imagine anyone purposely putting themselves through such turmoil for any reason – but these pioneers saw things differently. To be sure the western migration was the fantasy of the men, but…

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

For some reason this little story about the last days of a man dying of a terrible disease has hit the right buttons. It is the account of a 30-something yuppie who has sort of lost his way in life, but finding new insight about what is truly important from his former college professor. Every Tuesday the author travels to Morrie’s house to record his words of wisdom trying to discover where the author, and his generation, lost the path. The under girding philosophy that Morrie has to give is found in an oft’ repeated phrase, “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live” (p.82). Tuesdays is a story full of pathos, and perhaps this is its appeal. Many have lost loved ones who seemed to have a better handle on life than they. Maybe we should have taken the time to listen a little more to…

Tolkien, a Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

With Tolkien mania on the rise again, Tolkien buffs will want to read this authorized biography. This is a well written, interesting biography that fleshes out Tolkien’s personal and professional life. Tolkien’s relationship to C. S. Lewis is detailed, including the part he allegedly played in Lewis’ conversion. Whether Tolkien himself was a Christian is doubtful. He was a Roman Catholic and extremely religious, but his relationship with Christ is not explored in this book. Those who like Hobbits and Middle-earth will enjoy this biography; all others should skip this one.

The Wolf from Scotland by William B. Forsyth

In the mid 1800s a pioneer missionary took the gospel to two Portuguese speaking nations: Medeira and Brazil. Dr. Robert Reid Kalley was in the same league as Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson as far as his effectiveness as a missionary, but he lacked the fame of his peers. This biography goes a long way towards remedying this slight. Kalley was a Scottish medical doctor who, due to health concerns of his wife, moved to the Madeira Islands off the coast of northwest Africa. There he modeled the medical missionary for future generations, brought many to Christ and established a vital church in Madeira which so enraged the Roman Catholic population that strong persecution ensued. The Kalleys had to flee to Scotland and the Maderian believers (which numbered over 2000) to the West Indies. Ultimately a large number of these relocated to Springfield and Jacksonville, Illinois. After the death of…

The Story of Billy McCarrell by Dorothy Martin

This little biography of the founder of the IFCA, while certainly not a comprehensive study of McCarrell’s life, is nevertheless well worth the time it takes to read — especially for those in the IFCA, and similar separatist organizations. In my opinion, Martin spends too much time with minor details that are not later developed. For example, the author writes of numerous trivialities of the McCarrell’s home life, while making only passing references to the Fishermen’s Club and McCarrell’s involvement with Wheaton College and the Moody Bible Institute. This reader would have liked to know of the impact that the Fishermen’s Club had in Chicago. I have heard that McCarrell and the Fishermen’s Club stood toe to toe with Al Capone — but whether that is true, our author does not say. It would have also been instructive to learn about issues that McCarrell may have faced as a member…

The Life and Times of Cotton Mather by Kenneth Silverman

I can’t imagine too many Christians wading through a 400+ page biography about a man that most of them have never heard about, but they should. If nothing else, they would gain tremendous insight about life in early America, especially the Boston society. Along the way they would learn much about one of the most interesting and prominent characters of the colonial times. Mather came from incredible stock; the uniting of the most honored families in early New England, the Cottons and the Mathers – both grandfathers being famous Puritan preachers in early colonial history. Cotton, obviously named after both grandfathers may seem like a strange name until you know that his own father, also a well-known minister was named Increase (Cotton named one of his sons Increase, and later had a grandson by the same name; how did such a name fall out of favor?). Cotton lived from 1663…

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps because it has been heralded as one of the finest of all autobiographies, I found Ben Franklin’s a bit disappointing. Not that it isn’t interesting, filled as is was with all sorts of trivia not usually found in the history books, but on the other hand, there is nothing outstanding or terribly exciting either. Mostly the autobiography tells of Franklin’s success in various enterprises and of his observations and hurdles along the way. On the disappointing side The Autobiography said virtually noting about his wife or children, nor are we given details about interactions with other famous patriots of the times. As a matter of fact the account ends in 1765, before the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States for which Franklin plays such an important role. Of special interest to me were Franklin’s religious views. He was raised Presbyterian but soon parted company (pp. 117-118).…

That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child, A New Biography of J. C. Ryle by Eric Russell

There has been a recent resurgence in interest in the life of John Charles Ryle. This is due largely to the reprinting and promotion of some of his many writings, especially the excellent book Holiness. Ryle was a nineteenth century English Reformed evangelical pastor, author and, for his last twenty years, Bishop of Liverpool. His ministry overlapped other well-known evangelicals, most notably Charles Spurgeon. What set Ryle apart ecclesiastically was his loyalty to the Church of England. Due to the increasing influence of the Oxford Movement, with its return to Catholicism, and the encroachment of liberalism, stemming from German Higher Criticism, the Church of England was a spiritual and theological mixed bag at best. Many of the finest ministers abandoned Anglicanism and joined the nonconformist movement. Ryle stood his ground. This is the story of Ryle’s uncompromising faith and his tireless efforts to lead and reform the Church of England.…

That I May Know Him by Vance Havner

There is just something about the preaching and writing of Vance Havner that relaxes the soul. This little book is vintage Havner: low key, tranquil, thought provoking. As Havner himself admits, his ministry did not major on interpretation but on application. He was not a profound expositor of the Word; he was a simple country preacher who had a way of saying things that caused a person to reflect. Havner was born, “before the family was let out by auto and the world let in by radio.” He advises us that, “In this day of peanut-butter-sandwich theology, what a price we have paid for passing up the moral beefsteak of books that are books indeed.” He believed that life was happier before the “Amen age gave way to the era of So What.” Yet there was a period in Havner’s life when he drifted toward liberalism beginning to see “man…

Sandy, a Heart for God by Leighton Ford

Sandy, the eldest son of evangelist Leighton Ford, seemed to be on his way to a promising life of usefulness and service for the Lord. But in God’s wisdom He chose to take this young man home following heart surgery. This is the story of Sandy’s short life as told through a father’s words. That being the case, one is somewhat surprised at the frankness of the account. Ford does not paint his son as the perfect boy with all of his ducks in a row. While he firmly believed that Sandy had a heart for God he had plenty of “warts” including a bad temper and at times a strained relationship with his mom. Sandy, a Heart for God is a quick look into the life, and death, of one young man who wanted to walk with God. It will probably make you cry. But hopefully it will make…

Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie

If you like history and biography you will love Peter the Great, but you have to like history a lot because this book is 855 jam packed pages. Here you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about Russian history from about 1680 to 1725, along with ample pieces of European life during the same period. Massie is a fascinating writer and produces a biography that reads like a novel. You will enjoy this book, and thank the Lord that you live in the 21st century.

Payne Stewart by Anastasia T. Stewart

Much has been made over the spiritual conversion of the late professional golfer, Payne Stewart. Yet, reading this tender biography by his wife did not convince me that Stewart was truly a Christian, although some evidence pointed that direction. He was definitely a family man, a great athlete, a world-class joker, and a man who enjoyed life. Hopefully, he knew the Lord as well. The life story of Stewart was written much as you would expect a loving wife to report. It is interesting and warm, but not likely to be of great spiritual inspiration. Those who would most enjoy the book would be those with a strong interest in golf.

John Adams by David McCullough

Have you ever read a book that was so good that you felt guilty reading it? Neither have I, but McCullough’s John Adams came mighty close. If you like history, especially American history, you just can’t live much longer without devouring this biography that reads like a novel. Not only does McCullough give the story of John Adams, and his wonderful wife Abigail, but also along the way he provides glorious insights into the people and events during perhaps the most important point in American history. Admittedly, this is a big book (650 pages) but this is the first book of comparable size that I have ever read which I wish were longer. As a matter of fact, I put off reading the last fifteen pages for three days because I just didn’t want it to be over.

In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham

This frank, honest account of the kidnapping of missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham and Martin’s subsequent death, will break your heart and strengthen your faith. I greatly appreciate Gracia’s willingness to admit her depression and doubt during their ordeal. Yet, through it all the hand of God was evident in their lives. She looks back today with understandable sadness, but without bitterness. To Gracia the Lord is still good although her life has been forever changed. Her example, and that of Martin’s is encouragement to all. On the last day of Martin’s life he turned to Gracia and said, “I really don’t know why this has happened to us. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Psalm 100 – what it says about serving the Lord with gladness. This may not seem much like serving the Lord, but that’s what we’re doing, you know? We may not leave this jungle…

In the Footsteps of Faith by John F. MacArthur

This is a simple tour through the life of fourteen biblical characters who exhibited lives of faith. Some of the all-stars on display include Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul. But some lesser lights are also highlighted such as Rahab, Lydia and Epaphroditus. This is a straightforward, relatively uncomplicated book suitable for a Sunday school class or Bible study. It even includes a study guide for that purpose. I personally found the last chapter on Jesus Christ to be the most helpful.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

If you like your history lite then I, Claudius is your book. Written as an autobiography of the life of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, who became Emperor of Rome in 41 A.D., I, Claudius is actually historical fiction. As such, there seems to be no way to measure the accuracy of the accounts given in this first part of Graves’s two-part series. Nevertheless, I, Claudius is interesting – it reads like a novel – and reveals the sordid details of the lives and times of the Royal family from Augustus until the time when Claudius ascended to the throne.

Hostage by Nancy Mankins

In 1993 three New Tribes Missions missionaries serving in Panama were kidnapped and ultimately murdered by Colombian guerillas. Nancy Mankins, the wife of one of the victims tells the powerful story surrounding these events. Hostage is really three stories in one: First there is an overview of the ministry that these missionaries had in the jungle tribe where they were being wonderfully used of God. In alternate fashion Mankins weaves the second story, that of the kidnapping and the events that followed. The third story, and the most important, is the honest struggle and triumphant faith of wives and children left behind. The result is a heartbreaking yet challenging account of three little known missionary families that understood that it is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan

Grace Abounding is the celebrated autobiography of John Bunyan. Actually it deals very little with his life, family and ministry, including no mention of writing his best known works, Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War. Instead, much like his Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, Grace Abounding chronicles his spiritual pilgrimage. Fully two-thirds of the book details his tortured soul during his unconverted days. Under great conviction for years, Bunyan’s misery resembled that of characters out of an Edgar Allen Poe story: depressed, despairing, seemingly hearing voices and seeing visions. Truly Bunyan was in agony prior to conversion and, in fact, often afterward. Yet as he matured Bunyan saw even the “abominations in my heart” as means ordained by God for his good (p. 156). Still, Bunyan’s spiritual life is hardly self-described as jovial and permeated with peace. His was one of constant struggle—yet he remained faithful to his Lord even while imprisoned…

God Is My Delight by W. Phillip Keller

It would depend on your expectations as to whether or not this book would be appreciated by the reader. Biblical exposition it is not. Keller does sprinkle some Scripture throughout, but God Is My Delight is essentially not a study based upon the Scriptures. Rather it is a testimony of a man who has walked with God for forty years. He wants to tell us of the delight that this adventure has been – as a matter of fact the word “delight” is used several times in each chapter, as are the words quiet(ly) and gentle(ly). The book unfolds along these lines. Keller is describing his quiet, gentle, delight in God. There is much good to be said for that, and reading about the life of one who has lived this way is encouraging. On the negative side, his lifestyle would not be identifiable with most readers. Living a quiet,…

George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore

It would be difficult to lavish too much praise on Dallimore’s two volume biography of the famous eighteenth century evangelist George Whitefield. This is the definitive work of Whitefield’s life and ministry, dispelling many misconceptions while showing the true character and impact of this most remarkable man. Along the way the reader also receives valuable insight into the lives of the Wesleys, Jonathan Edwards and the Moravians. This is one of the greatest biographies ever written.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First forty Years 1899-1939 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray

This two-volume work by Murray is surely the definitive biography on the life of the famous Welch preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In nearly 1200 pages of text Murray traces the life and ministry of this man of God, who in many ways was the final link between the modern church and the great eighteenth century English preachers. Lloyd-Jones’ legacy is somewhat uneven. On the positive side, he welded enormous influence in the effort to return evangelical preachers to sound doctrinal and theological preaching. His expositions of the New Testament epistles are legendary. He preached almost 400 sermons on the book of Romans before his health broke while preaching through chapter 14. The Doctor was an enthusiastic Calvinist and a strong supporter of the writings of the Puritans. On the negative side, MLJ was at times influenced by his Calvinism and Puritanism to go beyond Scripture. This is most evident in…

Constrained by His Love by L.J. Van Valen

Constrained by His Love is a biography of the life of 19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne, originally written in Dutch and translated into English by Laurence R. Nicolson. McCheyne is best known for his godliness, his passion for Christ and his powerful preaching. McCheyne was also instrumental in the so-called Disruption in which the theologically conservative ministers and believers separated from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church in 1843. Unfortunately, McCheyne did not live to see the actual Disruption, dying just two months prior at the age of 29 and having ministered for less than 7 years. That a man who did not live to see his 30th birthday could have such a lasting impact for Christ is astounding, but such is the case. Van Valen’s biography has the feel of the old time biographies which emphasized the positive aspect of the subject—often to an…

Classic Christian Hymn-writers by Elsie Houghton

If you enjoy, as I do, the stories and personalities behind the great hymns of the faith, then this book is for you. Houghton takes a slightly different approach than most books on this subject — focusing on the hymn-writers themselves rather than on specific hymns. The result is an introduction to fifty individuals who have had great impact on our hymnology. Some personalities are universally known, such as: Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley, John Newton, and Fanny Crosby. Others are unfamiliar to most, yet their stories are well worth reading. Perhaps the only real drawback to the book is the lack of attention to more recent hymn-writers — only four having lived in any portion of the twentieth century. But overall Houghton has written an inspiring and valuable book.

Character Counts by Os Guinness, Editor

Guinness chooses four outstanding men, from the past 250 years, to demonstrate the moral leadership qualities that are sorely lacking in our world today. These individuals, George Washington, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn all have left unmistakable footprints of integrity across the pages of time. By virtually any standard these are truly great men, and they are great because of their excellence of character. In an age that honors image and bows at the feet of spin-doctors, it is refreshing to be reminded that it has not always been so. And one can wish, if the Lord tarries, that we might once again live in a world in which integrity is back in style. That is not to say that all four of our heroes were true Christians. Wilberforce seems the best candidate, followed by Solzhenitsyn, Lincoln and Washington. This book however does not give any concrete evidence…

Arthur W. Pink, Born to Write, a Biography by Richard P. Belcher

The writings of Arthur Pink are well known to most students of Scripture; his life is not. Born to Write traces the sad earthly pilgrimage of this sensitive and dedicated man of God. At every turn his preaching and pastoral ministry was rejected, often due to his own attitudes and actions. As his public life soured Pink reacted by becoming progressively isolated. Toward the end of his days he refused visits even from friends. Yet, he never stopped writing his periodical, Studies in the Scriptures. While his writings never received wide readership during his lifetime (1886-1952) they certainly have since. Dozen of books, pieced together from his Studies in the Scriptures, have since been published. Born to Write is an unhappy chronicle of the life of a good man. It also serves as a warning to others, equally dedicated, and equally extreme in their reactions. While Pink’s theological works and…

America’s First Dynasty: the Adamses, 1735-1918 by Richard Brookhiser

Having read John McCullough’s wonderful biography John Adams, and having read one of the most celebrated of all autobiographies, The Education of Henry Adams (the great-grandson of John Adams), I was hungry to fill in the gaps in the Adams’ family history, and thus my motivation for reading this volume. Brookhiser gives equal time to the star members of four generations of Adamses: John, John Quincy (both United States Presidents), Charles Francis (ambassador to Great Britain and almost President) and Henry who shunned politics and devoted his time to taking potshots at life and writing history and novels. Compared to the other two books mentioned in the opening paragraph America’s First Dynasty is not a particularly great book – of course it is running in elite circles. Brookhiser had far too many opinions, many of them about as cynical as any Henry could come up with, to make this a…

Amazing Grace by Steve Turner

Steve Turner has done a great service to Christians everywhere. In the first part of his carefully researched book, Turner gives us an excellent account of the life of John Newton, the author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” Here he covers much that is familiar, and at the same time corrects some common misconceptions. The second half of the book traces the history of “Amazing Grace.” It is fascinating to learn how the song’s tune has developed and changed, how the verses of the song have evolved over time, and how the hymn has grown in popularity over the years. Not as enjoyable was learning how “Amazing Grace” has been reinterpreted since the 1970’s to support the views of whatever unsaved person or group using it at the time. I am sure ol’ John Newton would be spinning in his grave if he knew what our postmodern society has…

Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green

Alexander, usually known as the Great, was truly great if we are speaking of military prowess. Perhaps the greatest general the world has ever known, Alexander had an insatiable desire to conquer. His motivation did not seem to lie in wealth but in the desire for power, the lust of battle, and the march toward deification. No army could stand against him, all other men were diminished in his presence, he was the ultimate conqueror. He conquered everything except himself, and this proved to be his undoing. Today we all but idolize men such as Alexander, however it is worth noting that at his death he was universally hated. He most likely died of poisoning, possibly at the hand of his tutor Aristotle, and the entire world rejoiced. As soon as he died his empire fractured. Green writes, “He spent his life, with legendary success, in the pursuit of personal…

A Spectacle Unto God by Don Kistler

This is the sad story of a courageous Puritan minister, Christopher Love, who got tangled up in the political upheaval in England during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Love stood by his convictions (the divine rights of kings) which were distorted into treason, resulting in his execution in 1651. The bulk of the book is made up of letters to and from Love’s wife and other friends. What stands out is not only sorrow but the great faith that Love and his peers had in the face of death. Love’s funeral sermon, preached by famous Puritan Thomas Manton, is also included and is a powerful biblical treatment on the subject of death. You won’t hear sermons like this at funerals today. Very interesting short biography.

A Passion for God, the Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett

If you prefer your spiritual heroes air-brushed and fitted with halos you might want to skip this most recent biography of A. W. Tozer. Dorsett paints Tozer as a man of God but one with more than his share of flaws. Tozer’s passion for God and his intolerance of superficial spirituality are legionary. Some of his books, such as The Knowledge of the Holy, and The Pursuit of God, are Christian classics which have had profound affect on generations of serious believers. In his lifetime Tozer was a most sought after preacher, calling his hearers to a deeper commitment to God. He was especially effective with high school and college age young people who heard a fresh and authentic voice in Tozer’s message. But there were at least three troubling elements in Tozer’s life. First, his involvement with the Christian and Missionary Alliance was far more active than most realize.…

Tribulation Force by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

The second book in this trilogy is Tribulation Force, which picks up the story exactly where Left Behind “left” it. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed with this second volume. I was expecting the book to progress well into the Tribulation, but instead it digressed into a Jerry Jenkins’ love story (which my secretary says sounds pretty good to her). As Left Behind closed we were about to see the first seal of Rev. 6 opened. As Tribulation Force closes, the second seal is apparently being broken. Come on guys, we have 5 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls to go, and that doesn’t count the Battle of Armageddon. Forget the girl and get to the action. At least that is my opinion. Maybe the last volume, Nicolae, will be better.

Time Changer by Rich Christiano and Greg Mitchell

Ever since I read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells as a teenager, I have been fascinated with the ideal of traveling through time. I suppose I am not alone. But until now I had never ran into any literature dealing with time travel from a Christian bias. What would it be like for a dedicated believer of the 1890s to suddenly be transported to the 21st century? How would they view our spiritual progress? What would they think of modern Christianity? This little novel develops this theme in a predictable but delightful manner. I truly enjoyed Time Changer, and more importantly, it gave me pause to consider my own walk with Christ from a different perspective.

The Shack by William P. Young

One of the most popular and controversial Christian books of recent years is the fictional work by first time author William Young. Evangelical recording artist Michael W. Smith states, “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God.” Author Eugene Peterson believes “this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” On the other hand, seminary president Al Mohler says the book “includes undiluted heresy” and many concur. Given its popularity (number one on the New York Times bestseller list for paperback fiction), influence and mixed reviews, we need to take a careful look. Good Christian fiction has the ability to get across a message in an indirect, non-threatening yet powerful, way. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the most successful in the genre and has been mightily used of the Lord to teach spiritual truth. What determines…

The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield

Now here is what we have all been longing for – the perfect blend between golf and Eastern mysticism. In The Legend of Bagger Vance the East meets the West, and that on the 18th green. Here is how it works. The ultimate goal of Eastern mysticism is oneness with the universe. The ultimate goal of golf is the perfect, (or as Bagger calls it) the authentic swing. When the two come together you’ve got it. What “you’ve got” I am not sure but whatever it is it’s yours. Not since Jonathan Livingston Seagull has the New Age movement made such inroads into the thinking of the unsuspecting. Fortunately (?) Hollywood has made a movie of this book for the nonreader. Actually the golf drama is quite good, as is the human-interest story. But Eastern mysticism is obviously the point of the book and that is too wide a gulf…

The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill

This early 20th Century novel by the American Churchill, tells the story of an up-and-coming minister who almost loses his faith, only to be rescued by a new understanding of the gospel and the church. Sound good? It’s not, because the new gospel embraced was that of liberalism bordering on socialism. Churchill wrote The Inside of the Cup to demonstrate the impotency and failure of the conservative church and the form of Christianity she espouses. In the novel all conservatives are painted as power-hungry, money-obsessed, hypocrites, while liberals are painted as those who live in the spirit of Jesus. The only value to Churchill’s novel is that the reader might receive a better understanding of the mind and actions of liberal “Christians.” Along the way Churchill’s key characters deny virtually every important doctrine of Scripture: Heaven, Hell, eternal life, the virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, the Gospel, creation, atonement, the…

The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley

This lengthy historical novel by a Pulitzer Prize winning author is both interesting and different. The action is centered around one family living in Greenland during the fourteenth century. For those who enjoy learning about past cultures and how life was lived by its inhabitants, this will be an absorbing book. For those who don’t, skip The Greenlanders. Smiley attempts to write more than a novel, she also desires to interject a moral or two concerning religion, revenge, justice and need for law in a society. She succeeds in writing a pretty good novel that forces the reader to think a bit about the consequences of their actions. The book is long however, and a little slow. The are also lots of strange names to remember, most of which seem to begin with “Thor”.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Considered the defining novel of the 1920s, The Great Gatsby is determined a masterpiece by the literary world. It has even been referred to as “the great American novel,” with Twain’s Huckleberry Finn being the only rival. I DON’T THINK SO!! Fitzgerald is not in the same league as Twain, and The Great Gatsby shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as Huck. It is an interesting novel of the decadence and superficiality of the era, and serves as a warning to our similar age and people. It is worth reading, but not all would agree that it deserves the status of a classic.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Albom’s book has been on top of all the bestseller lists for months, and since it seemed to encroach into the Christian arena, I thought I would give it a read. Right up front it must be understood that The Five People You Meet in Heaven is not a Christian book—it is fiction. And viewed as a novel it is excellent. Albom is an exceptional writer and I found this novel hard to put down. It is a story that will make you think, cry and examine your own life. You could not ask much more from a piece of secular fiction. However, viewed as theology, The Five People You Meet in Heaven is certainly out of sync with Scripture. As with Albom’s other bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie, this book is moralistic and thought provoking, but it is not the wisdom of Scripture. Albom’s portrait of God, life and heaven…

The Fall by Albert Camus

Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, about the time The Fall was published. This interesting little novel reveals the haunted conscience of the secular man who is devoid of hope. Try as he may, man is incapable of finding relief from the ambiguities and emptiness of life, nor from the sins that haunt him. Although Camus speaks of God and religion it is obvious he does not know the God who cleanses from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. The book is of value in understanding how a secular thinker views the human condition.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Dante’s classic fourteenth century poem is really three books in one, each describing the abode of those who have departed from this world. Inferno, describing the horrors of hell, was the most interesting to me, and has probably shaped the world’s view of hell more than the Bible has. Purgatoiro depicts purgatory, that once again has influenced Roman Catholic thought on this subject as much as anything. The final poem is Paradiso and is a picture of heaven, which I found relatively uninteresting. The Divine Comedy has been reviewed thousands of times and needs no further thoughts from me. I will say that I was surprised by the blend of Medieval Christianity, pagan thought and mythology. Along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, this work has molded the way many Christians view the next life, even though the vast majority of the contents are imaginary.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Dan Brown tells a good story and everyone loves a mystery. Put these ingredients together, mix in a bit of history, ancient and secret rituals, claim that your novel is based on truth, and, oh yes, scandalize Christ in the process, and you have the makings of a runaway best seller. The premise of Brown’s novel is that the Roman Catholic Church has lied about and covered up the true identity of Jesus. It seems, according to Brown and his Gnostic resources, that Jesus was a mere mortal. He married Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter before He was crucified. Understandably, if the “true” story of Jesus leaked out it would destroy the Christian faith, hence the great coverup. But now, the “truth” being hidden for two millennia is in danger of being exposed. While Brown’s half-truths, guesswork and blasphemy is supported by virtually no historical evidence, many will be…

The Call of the Wild / The Sea-Wolf by Jack London

The Call of the Wild is far too well known to need review. If you like adventure stories with animals as lead characters few have surpassed London, his best being The Call of the Wild (with White Fang a close second). The Sea-wolf is almost as good as London’s animal stories, and of a similar genre. Just replace Buck (the dog) with Wolf Larson (the sea captain); Alaska with the sea; the dog sled with the ship; wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild dogs with wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild men; add a sissy-boy with a sophisticated woman and you have the recipe for The Sea-wolf . It is an engaging sea story more interesting than Moby Dick and in the same league as Mutiny on the Bounty.

The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett

This 800-page volume is a collection of stories, poems, nursery rhymes, myths, fairy tales and short biographies designed to encourage moral conviction in a society that no longer places much store in morals or convictions. There are ten chapters, each dealing with a separate virtue: Self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith. The Book of Virtues is worth reading, at least selectively. It is of course refreshing to think that a book about “right and wrong” can still be a best seller. On the negative side, Bennett is not a believer, to my knowledge, and therefore while his stories all have a moral bend, they don’t all have a Christian bend. Some are actually anti-Christian in philosophy. Morality and Christianity are not synonymous; as a matter of fact, morality can be the enemy of the gospel. So even in a book dedicated to virtue, discernment is…

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When I was a child my father instilled a passion for reading within me by telling stories based on books he had read. The most memorable tale was that of Tarzan of the Apes . Perhaps my love of reading can be traced back to the fictional story of a young man swinging through the trees of the African jungle. Yet, I had never personally read Burroughs’ classic until now. I did not find it great literature, neither in style nor story line, but it was certainly fun. You might want to read it sometime – and tell it to your children. Who knows, it may fuel a passion (hopefully not the swinging from trees or eating with their hands kind).

Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains

Tales of the Kingdom at any given point reminds the reader of The Wizard of Oz, Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Knights, Chronicles of Narnia or any number of Disney’s children’s classics. Tales of the Kingdom is comprised of a dozen short, interconnected, fantasy stories directed at children. Like Aesop’s Fables, each tale ends with a moral. Like C.S. Lewis’ imaginary world, children, magic, mythological creatures and a Christ figure are prominent throughout. The stories are fairly well written and beautifully illustrated. Two things will trouble some readers. First is the magic/mythical element. Scripture condemns involvement with sorcery of any type and strictly forbids the believer being involved with such. Yet much of children’s literature, including Christian-based, is full of magic, sorcery and the like. Some believers are deeply bothered by this glorification of the forbidden. The problem is being consistent. If the Mains are wrong to lace their tales with sorcery,…

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The four horsemen of the poetic world are considered to be Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and John Milton. Milton’s poetry is not as dynamic as Homer’s, as hair-raising as Dante’s or as versatile as Shakespeare’s, but for my money (whatever that is worth) give me Milton. Perhaps it is the subject matter. Homer wrote of gods and warriors, Dante of hell, Shakespeare of mortal heroes and villains, Milton of God, Satan and the fall of man. Paradise Lost made Milton immortal in the world of literature. His descriptions of heaven, hell, angels and demons have done more to shape the average person’s view of these things than even the Bible itself. This of course draws a word of caution from us. Milton traffics in fantasy; Scripture in reality. What Milton wrote is great fiction; what God wrote is powerful truth. All we really know of the spirit world is gleaned from…

Nicolae by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Unfortunately, having now read Nicolae, I am convinced that our boys should have stopped after Triblation Force. Their writing is steadily going down hill — and it would appear that they are planning a number of sequels. Nicolae did start out better with a great deal of action, and gratefully, the poorly written romance was kept to a minimum. But the authors simply replaced romance with technology as a filler. I believe there was more written about Range Rovers, super laptop computers and cell phones than there was about opening of the seal judgments. Add in a long and boring bus chase (yes, a bus chase), constant repetition of events detailed in the first two volumes (and sometimes earlier in this one), huge numbers of petty conversations, and you have the recipe for a yawner. Maybe a groaner would be a better term, as I actually found myself groaning from…

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

No, Nausea is not a description of the feeling we get at tax season; it is Sartre’s indictment of life. To Existentialist philosopher Sartre, Nausea occurs when we come to grips with the fact that we do indeed exist, but it makes no difference (p. 122). Sartre’s summary of life is, “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance” (p. 133). It is the goal of this novel to prove this thesis, therefore Sartre, through the fictional character Antoine Roquentin, systematically examines everything from religion to education to work to love and pronounces them all as meaningless. When Roquentin looks inside himself he finds nothing. From this comes his despair; everything is absurd. He is an accident; a product of chance and therefore nothing matters. As you can tell this is not exactly an uplifting book, but it does offer insight into…

Lord Foulgrin’s Letters by Randy Alcorn

That Alcorn would even attempt to copy C. S. Lewis’ classic Screwtape Letters says something about the man’s courage and confidence. Alcorn does not ascend to Lewis’ level, perhaps no one ever will, but in truth he does a good job. It is an intriguing approach to endeavor to view our lives from the vantage point of the demonic world. Usually we ask the question, “What is it that God desires?” But it may be almost as fruitful, and rather refreshing to query, “What would the Devil want?” If we could infiltrate the counsel of the demons what would be their plan for us? How would they try to twist truth? What would they do to keep us distracted from God? How would they present sin so as to make it most enticing? This is Alcorn’s and Lewis’ approach, and it has merit. As for Alcorn’s theology, based on this…

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Left Behind is the first in a trilogy of novels dealing with the end times. Left Behind , written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, begins on the day that the Rapture takes place and concludes just as the Antichrist is about to assume power over the world. The story however, is wrapped around the lives of a handful of individuals who come face to face with the fact that the Rapture has occurred. Will they come to Christ, or be taken in by the false explanations for the disappearance of millions throughout the world. And if they come to the Lord, what will it cost them? Left Behind is not classic literature but it is an interesting story, easy to read, and thought provoking (especially as we watch the how the Antichrist begins to deceive everyone around him). The book takes a pretribulational approach and views the book of…

Holy War by John Bunyan

I won’t waste time critiquing a classic as well known as Holy War . It is Bunyan’s second best known allegory and, in my opinion, for what it is worth, is even more interesting than Pilgrim’s Progress. For those who would want a more modern version, try Ethel Barrett’s paraphrase.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Published in 1902 by Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness has long been considered a classic. The story itself is ordinary enough; a sailor travels into the midst of the Congo jungle to engage in the ivory trade. There is no romance, little action, but a few moments of violence. Conrad uses only words to hold his audience’s attention, but my how he uses words. Few writers, past or present, can rival this man in his use of descriptive language. Perhaps this is why virtually every college literature course seems to require the reading of this little novel, often to the dismay of the students. Conrad’s greatness lies in the fact that he is not really spinning a story about a journey into the heart of the Congo, but a journey into the blackness of the heart and soul of man. When a man, a good man, attempts…

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

The best selling books in America at this time (November 1999) are the three fictional volumes by J.K. Rowling about the life of a boy named Harry Potter. These are books about magic, witches, wizards, dragons and all that goes with such fairy tales. They are written for children and thus are simple, both in reading style and story line. Certainly not destined to be classic works, they are nevertheless fun and interesting. The question on the minds of many Christians is whether these books are also dangerous. They deal with the “dark” side, the world of magic, in a very positive and attractive way. Would such fiction attract children to the real world of the dark arts, which is not nearly so pleasant? That is a question the discerning reader will have to settle in his or her own mind. As for the books themselves, having read only the…

The Myth of A.D.D. Biblically Redefined by Andrew George and Lindsay Pretious

The philosophy and worldview of secular psychology have not only shaped much of the world but have also inundated the church of Christ. Believers have somehow forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, that psychological systems (and there are hundreds of them) are not neutral—they are competing with the teachings of Scripture. Therefore, any attempt to integrate the views of psychology with those of God’s Word are doomed from the start. Yet Christians, who have been warned not to “walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1), to beware of the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), to have nothing to do with worldly fables (1 Timothy 3:7) and to seek God’s wisdom not the world’s (James 3:13-18), insist that great profit can be had by combining biblical truth with worldly precepts found in psychology. Nowhere is this trend more evident than with the ADD and ADHD lie which has…

The Complete Husband by Lou Priolo

This volume contains a familiar rehash of neuthetic counseling principles and concepts. There is nothing particularity new here for those knowledgeable of this genre, but for those who are not, a great deal of the contents should prove helpful. While The Complete Husband contains much good information there are also several issues of concern. Some of these issues (listed below) are important enough that I would recommend limited and careful use of this book. 1. Believers are broken into two categories that will be familiar to readers of neuthetic literature: the feeling-oriented and the obedience-oriented (p.24). But what about a third option, one more in tune with New Testament teaching as opposed to Old Testament? I speak of the Spirit-filled or Spirit-controlled-oriented person. 2. I Peter 3:7 does not tell us to understand our wives, but to live with them in an “understanding way” (p.24). There is a world of…

Successful Christian Parenting by John MacArthur

At last, a book on raising children that claims to be biblical and actually uses the Bible. This is far rarer than might be imagined since most Christian writers give passing notice to Scripture then thrust upon the unsuspecting reader a philosophy of parenting that is either based on pop-psychology or legalism. MacArthur manages to thread his way between these two land mines and give us solid principles based upon the Word of God. We must distinguish here between the unquestionable teachings of Scripture and the subjective applications, as I am sure MacArthur would agree. Elevating an application or technique to the level of biblical authority is a common error among Christian “family experts.” MacArthur attempts to avoid this, and I believe he does a good job. Successful Christian Parenting deals well with all of the major passages on the subject. I was happy to find that in the first…

Psychology Debunked by Lisa and Ryan Bazler

The main author of this book, Lisa Bazler, is a trained psychotherapist, who after receiving Christ began to discover gaping incompatibilities between psychology and Scripture. This ultimately led to her leaving the world of psychotherapy and to expose its error to others. Psychology Debunkedis an attempt to do actually that—and she does it well. Those well-versed in the anti-psychology literature, which traces its roots back to at least the early writings of Jay Adams, will find little new here. The value of the work for them will be in the review of what they already know. So the real strength of the book will be for those just exploring these issues and in need of a clear, straight-forward, easy to read “debunking” of psychology’s claims. Psychology Debunked will be one of the first books that I will hand to such people.

Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs

Eggerichs has placed his finger squarely on the key to a God-honoring and happy marriage. Love and Respect is based on the commands found in Ephesians 5:33 that crystallize the responsibility of the husband, which is to love his wife, and the responsibility of the wife, which is to respect her husband. Many have theorized as to why our Lord chose these particular things as foundational. Eggerichs believes that they are needs—the husband needs respect, the wife love. Perhaps, but it could also be that God so designed marriage to function with the love/respect dynamic, or it could be that these specific traits are the most difficult, the most unnatural for us to give one another. Or, it may be all three. Nevertheless, Eggerichs’ focus on these two actions/attitudes is right on the money. The author lays out three cycles around which his book is developed. The “crazy cycle” is…

Lawfully Wedded by Renald Showers

This little booklet tackles the question of “what is marriage?” and its corollary, “what makes a man and woman husband and wife?” Through a careful examination of Scripture, Showers demonstrates that the sexual act does not constitute a marriage, rather it is the making of a marriage covenant in which a couple vows to be husband and wife. “When the covenanted man and woman enter into sexual union, they are putting into practice what they previously had covenanted to do” (p.16). This is an excellent little study for any dealing with this particular subject.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

Harris’ book has caused quite a stir in the Christian community and with good reason. He has dared to scrap the Western dating system and replace it with one that he believes more fully honors God. I Kissed Dating Goodbye, while certainly not the final word on the subject, is well worth reading and pondering. Harris has rightly observed that our present dating scheme is froth with dangers. First, there are the moral temptations that challenge the resolve of even the strongest Christian. Next there is the issue of over commitment at a time of life when lasting commitment is impossible. Add to that the broken hearts, distracted minds, lopsided relationships and spiritual retardation that often accompanies dating, especially of the young, and you start to get a handle on the problem. Harris’ solution is to develop a different mindset. He encourages young people to focus on family, friends and…

He’s H.O.T., She’s H.O.T. by Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark

A number of fine Christian books have been published recently dealing with the subject of dating. Josh Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye is perhaps the best known, and certainly the most hotly debated. The Clarks have written two books – this one and I Gave Dating a Chance, to offer an option for those who could not buy Harris’ concepts. The Clarks believe that believers can date to the glory of God, but the key to godly dating lies in the pursuit of proper qualities, qualities they describe as HOT. “H” stands for holy and “T” for trustworthy. Searching for a dating partner and/or an eventual mate who is holy and trustworthy would, without question, modify and enhance the overall dating environment of believers. I was not as enthusiastic with the “O” or outrageous, which is defined as “remarkable, exceptional, extraordinary, special, unique, memorable, wonderful, marvelous, striking, electrifying, and noteworthy”…

Discovering the Mind of a Woman by Ken Nair

This is one of those marriage books which scores points on the big issues and loses them in the details. Nair’s central thesis is right on the money: “Christlikeness is God’s first priority for every man” (p. 6). He then takes this thesis and attempts to work it out in the dynamics of marriage. Again Nair’s broad strokes are good, since a Christlike man will make every attempt to understand his wife (1 Peter 3:7) and lead her spiritually (Ephesians 5:25-27). The Christlike husband will put his wife’s needs before his own and love her as Christ loves the church. All of this is excellent—and if this is all Nair said then we could highly recommend Discovering the Mind of a Woman. However, he says much more. First, Nair is very careless in his use of Scripture, often ripping verses out of context or simply creating strange interpretations (pp. 37-39,…

As for Me and My House by Walter Wangerin Jr.

This is an excellent book on Christian marriage, written in autobiographical form by someone who really knows how to turn a phrase. When I first sat down to read this book my intention was to skim through rather quickly, gleaning whatever was of value. But I was soon arrested by first the writing ability of the author, and then impressed with the content of the volume. The strongest section of the book, which contains five chapters, is on the subject of forgiveness. There he covers well the biblical teaching on forgiveness but he does so by opening a window to his own marriage, which sailed through turbulent waters for a number of years. While As for Me and My House would be helpful to any couple, it is best suited for those who have been married a while and perhaps are struggling with their relationship. If the principles within the…

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp

This is the best book I have ever read on the subject of raising teenagers in a biblical manner. Happily absent from this volume is the usual homage to psychobabble and Dear Abby self-help. Instead the proposition of the book is, “What controls my heart will control my life” (p. 30), therefore, the Christian parent’s task is to raise children with a heart for God. The principles found in Age of Opportunity are drawn from Scripture. In addition, Tripp suggests many practical ways to apply these principles. Refreshingly, Tripp admits some failure, both of his and his teens. But if there is a negative in the book it would be that the subject of rebellious teens is never addressed. What happens if the parent does all of these things and yet junior turns from God and home anyway. In Tripp’s world children all seem to respond rather quickly to loving…

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is a most wonderful account of the Lewis and Clark expedition focusing primarily on Meriwether Lewis. The book, which reads like a novel, is just overflowing with information and details including a few maps and pictures. It would be hard to imagine a better rendering of this famous American adventure. For those who enjoy history and/or exciting tales, this is a must read.

The Meaning of History by Ronald H. Nash

This is an excellent book, for the most part, not on history itself but on the philosophy of history. Nash details the major views of history held by historians, theologians, and philosophers which he lumps into three basic categories: the linear pattern in which history has a goal toward which it is advancing; the cyclical theory that understands history as constantly repeating itself; and the spiral theory of Toynbee that combines the linear and cyclical into a view in which there is a certain repetition in history but also a progress toward a goal. A few thinkers reject all three patterns and opt for a chaotic view that states history has no pattern or meaning. Nash believes that the linear theory is the one most in line with Scripture and Christian theology. The three major theories, as well as the key shapers of these theories, is the subject of the…

The Greeks, Crucible of Civilization by Paul Cartledge

Greek history has always fascinated me, so when I stumbled across an intriguing PBS documentary by the above title, I just had to have the accompanying book. Unfortunately this is one of those rare cases when the movie is better than the book, although not by much. Actually the book is very interesting, full of facts and information worthy of note. But I was not particularly fond of the format, which was arranged by personalities rather than the actual flow of history and events. The result was, in effect, 15 short biographies of famous (and a few not so famous) Greeks from Homer to Alexander the Great. Along the way you will find numerous wonderful pictures that will help bring the times alive.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

That the autobiography of a relatively obscure individual would be considered perhaps the greatest of all autobiographies (by many critics) was intriguing to me. I thought that I might give it a read. What I found surprised me. Henry Adams, a grandson of John Quincy Adams, was a brilliant man who lived a long time, from 1838 to 1914, had great potential and for the most part accomplished very little. He was a writer and historian but was content with what he termed “education” not action. By education he seemed to mean that he was an observer, a learner. He studied life, often from a detached point of view – he seldom entered the contest himself. In the process of educating, Henry Adams nurtured his already inherent pessimism about life, people, politicians and even himself. So what is the draw of this book? Well, first Adam was an excellent writer.…

Patriots, the Men Who Started the American Revolution by A. J. Langguth

There have been countless books written on the American Revolution, but they tend to fall into two categories: rather boring textbooks or centered around the life of a single event or personality such as Washington or Jefferson. Langguth felt, “There seemed to be a place for a book that approached the revolution as a story, focusing on the principal actors as they moved from the writs-of-assistance trial in 1761 to General Washington’s resignation from the Continental Army in 1783.” So our author wrote such a book and it is a beauty. If you like history you will love Patriots .

Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

A well written historical account beats fiction just about any time — in my estimation, and Endurance is just such a historical account. It is the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to cross the Antarctic overland. Unfortunately, his ship was trapped and crushed by ice, forcing him and his men to attempt to survive on drifting snow packs for months, hibernate on a deserted stretch of land, attempt a thousand mile ocean voyage in a small boat across the world’s worst seas, and then make an impossible trek overland — all in order to survive. The hardships faced by these men, the courage and tenacity in the face of danger is all but unbelievable. “Endurance” is truly a good name for this book — just don’t read it in the winter.

Words on Target by Sue Nichols

Words on Target is an excellent little work designed for all who wish to communicate more effectively with twentieth-century Americans. In the first chapter the author reminds us that we are not speaking and writing to past generations who perhaps had greater attention spans and abilities to listen. We are communicating the Christian message in a world of increasing competition. Our audience is not trained to wade through complex speech and difficult verbiage. Their training has come at the hands of ABC, slick magazines and mindless paperbacks. How are we to compete? With economy, energy and subtlety. Nichols goes on to give sound advice, helpful suggestions, and sane counsel. The information given will be best understood and applied by seasoned communicators who are trying to tune up, rather than the novice, but would be helpful to anyone. This little volume is worth several readings.

The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper

Piper has written an excellent inspirational book on the subject of preaching. This is not a book on the techniques or mechanics of preaching; rather it could be best described as an encouragement for preachers to focus their messages on the greatness of God. I found the volume delightful and plan to read it often. The Supremacy of God in Preaching is divided into two sections. The first part handles with skill the question of why God should be supreme in preaching. Fashionable preaching today focuses on tips and techniques, stories and “practical themes.” Piper challenges this fad and urges the preacher to give their hearers God in all of His glory. The author suggests that people are starving for God (whether they know it or not) and someone, at least once a week, “needs to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God” (p.11). The second half…

The Puritan Pulpit: Thomas Watson by Edited by Don Kistler

This contribution to The Puritan Pulpit series, published by Soli Deo Gloria, is a good sampler of Puritan sermons. Thomas Watson, one of the best known and most beloved of the English Puritan “devines,” lived from 1620 to 1686 during a time of great political and ecclesiastical turmoil. He endured imprisonment and other hardships because of his convictions, but his enthusiasm for the preaching of the Word was never dampened. This book contains ten sermons that Watson preached. They are typical of Puritan sermons: long, saturated with Scripture, God-centered, beginning with exegesis and concluding with application. They are also more topical than expositional in nature. By that I mean Watson would normally structure a sermon around a single verse of Scripture, then travel all over the Bible exhausting the main thought of that verse. On the positive side, the Puritan style of preaching exposed the listeners to massive amounts of…

The Majesty of God in the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

This fine little book is, as its subtitle suggests, “a guide for preaching and teaching.” While the reader will gain much information concerning the majesty of God, and the book is valuable for that alone, its real purpose is to instruct teachers in the best homiletical approach to the Old Testament. In this regard, Kaiser promotes the “big idea” method, in which the preacher/teacher discovers from the text the central theme and then arranges his message around that theme. I concur with Kaiser that this is the best homiletical methodology. As a matter of fact, if I were to teach a course on how to preach the Old Testament I would make The Majesty of God required reading. Kaiser’s introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Here he gently rejects the common view that all biblical texts focus on Christ and thus “all preaching is really about getting…

Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry by John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary Faculty

This is a relatively fine book geared toward, as the title would indicate, the pastor and his ministry. Many excellent concepts and scriptural instructions are given that would surely enhance the ministry of any pastor. I would recommend the reading of this four hundred-page book to both novice and veteran pastors, but not without some cautions and concerns. I will devote the rest of this review to those concerns with the reader keeping in mind that my overall endorsement is positive. First there is the problem that usually accompanies any volume with multiple authors – an unevenness in both the writing and the content. Twelve different men contributed to Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry , and I would suspect that many of them would not agree with some of the things their co-authors wrote. There is also the problem of overlap as the authors often take up the same subjects in their…

Preaching with Passion by Alex Montoya

This little book on preaching is a mixed bag. On the one hand the author is a solid man of God who loves to preach, and to preach with passion. He takes the art of preaching seriously, offering many practical helps and guidelines to enhance the preaching of his readers. Without question, in my opinion, his chapter on preaching with compassion is the high water mark of the book. The best preachers are not just wordsmiths; they are men who speak for God from broken hearts. They preach to the sinner, the wounded, the dying, the lost and the hurting. And the minute they forget this fact a great measure of power is lost from their sermons. I have personally known some wonderful preachers that had no real heart and concern for their people – they just loved to preach. Mercifully such men usually don’t last long in the ministry.…

O Worship the King by Joni Eareckson Tada, John MacArthur, Robert & Bobbie Wolgemuth

This team of authors has provided us with an inspirational volume focused on twelve excellent hymns of the faith. Hymns selected include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” “O Worship The King” and “Be Thou My Vision.” Each hymn is examined doctrinally by MacArthur, with the circumstances behind the writing of each hymn detailed by the Wolgemuths. Joni provides an experience in which each hymn has influenced her life. Put it all together and we have a book that will encourage and bless all who love the hymns and the truths they proclaim. As an added bonus the book comes with a CD on which Tada and MacArthur sing each hymn. At least that’s what I’ve been told—the person who gave me my copy apparently snitched the CD. O Worship the King would make an excellent gift. It could also supply the backgrounds of…

Feed My Sheep, a Passionate Plea for Preaching by Edited by Don Kistier

Feed My Sheep is a compilation of articles written by eleven of the best preachers of modern times: e.g. John MacArthur, John Piper, and Sinclair Ferguson. Topics covered include: expository preaching, the foolishness of preaching, preaching to the mind, preaching to the heart and preaching with authority. As with any book written by a number of authors, this one is uneven in quality. In my opinion, the chapters vary from good to mediocre, but none are outstanding. The book as a whole is interesting and valuable, and its emphasis on biblical preaching is sorely needed. However, Feed My Sheep was just not that inspirational, nor instructional. The reader would be better off turning to MacArthur’s and Haddon Robinson’s books for instruction, and John Piper’s and Warren Wiersbe’s for inspiration.

Famine in the Land by Steven J. Lawson

While many in evangelicalism are calling for the demise of the sermon, and many others have forgotten what a biblical sermon is to be, others are making a passionate plea for a return to exposition of the Scriptures. Steven Lawson is one of those, opening Famine in the Land with a quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also.” Lawson is serious about preaching. What follows Lloyd-Jones’ quote is biblical support for preaching, numerous examples of great preaching and a treasure chest of quotes and illustrations designed to encourage preaching. While there is much illumination in Famine in the Land, its purpose is more in line with inspiration. Lawson desperately wants his readers to understand that true doctrinal, expositional…

Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries

This is one of the most refreshing books that I have read in years on the subject of ministering to young people in the context of the local church. DeVries’ thesis is that the most successful youth programs in the long run are not those that offer endless entertainment and stimulation, but those that involve the young people in the overall life of the church, and most importantly, with dedicated Christian adults. There is in Family-Based the usual smattering of psychological jargon and concepts – these must be filtered out. But the overall concept of the book is well worth pondering and implementing.

Comforting the Bereaved by Warren W. Wiersbe and David W. Wiersbe

In this little volume the Wiersbes have provided pastors with a most wonderful, practical and useful guide for helping those facing the death of loved ones. From the funeral service, to the funeral sermon, to encouraging the grieving, Comforting the Bereaved deals insightfully with all of these issues and more. This is not a book to be read and placed on a shelf. Rather it should serve as a constant resource, often consulted, and its advice pondered. Even with all the valuable information contained in this book there is one negative – the Wiersbes sprinkle purely psychological advice throughout. For those who can filter out this unfortunate information, no harm will be done. For those who can’t, the book could take them in some misguided directions. My counsel is: ignore their pop-psychology and zero in on their biblical and practical instruction and you will be greatly helped.

Come Alive with Illustrations by Leslie B. Flynn

Illustrations are an important, and too often neglected, component of Bible teaching and preaching. Illustrations serve to shed light on the Scriptures, explain difficult concepts and open the door to application. Therefore books like Flynn’s, which teach us how to find, use and file illustrations, are valuable. The first half of the book is particularly useful for those who need to be encouraged and instructed concerning the above-mentioned aspects of illustrations. The second half of the book provides numerous illustrations categorized by various subjects. Unfortunately, many of Flynn’s examples are tired, old and unverified stories and anecdotes of questionable value. As a matter of fact, so dated were many of his stories that I checked the copyright date (1988) at least twice, thinking that surely this book is at least 50 years old. My evaluation is that the first part of Come Alive with Illustrations is helpful if not great.…

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

Written at the turn of the twentieth century, James’ famous work remains a classic and standard in the field of religious experiences. James approaches his subject from the realm of science as a psychologist, not as a Christian. His objective is to detail, analyze and evaluate the various experiences found commonly in all religions. James demonstrates that certain experiences, feelings, practices and claims are shared by all religions from Christianity to Hinduism to the most grotesque forms of paganism. The question is how are these experiences to be evaluated? If a Hindu, a Protestant and Catholic (sounds like the beginning of a bad joke) all have similar visions or experiences upon which the validity of their faith is based, how are we to know which of these religions are true? Perhaps an even more fundamental concern for James (who is not particularly interested in truth) is from where did these…

The Father’s Blessing by John Arnott

It has been called “the Toronto Blessing” and “the Laughing Revival” by its friends and various other things by its foes. Whatever it is called, it all began on January 20, 1994 at a church called the Toronto Airport Vineyard, pastored by John Arnott. Arnott believes that God is throwing a great party and six nights a week hundreds of people gather to become drunk in the Spirit and enjoy the festivities. The parties that God seems to be throwing would rival anything that the world has to offer, what with people laughing for hours, falling all over the floor, making strange noises, shaking, shouting, having visions and falling into trances. A mere twenty months into the “revival” Arnott penned this book billed as a firsthand account of a refreshing move of God. This “anointing”, as it is sometimes called, has spread throughout the world (Arnott claims some 5000 to…

Preparing the Way by Cal Pierce

Preparing the Way is the account of reopening the so-called “Healing Rooms” in Spokane, Washington. The healing rooms were originally the ministry of John G. Lake in the early twentieth century. Lake claimed that thousands of miraculous healings took place in those rooms as the Spirit of God swept over Spokane. For 80 years the rooms had been closed when Cal Pierce claimed he was led of God in the late 1990s to reopen the rooms and release the healing power of God, not only in Spokane, but ultimately throughout the world. According to Pierce the power of John G. Lake has been given to him and God is once again healing multitudes—and this is only the beginning. Pierce claims that God is using him and the healing rooms to prepare the world for the pouring out of God’s healing powers. By way of critique it is instructive to note…

Pagans in the Pews by Peter Jones

In this carefully researched and documented book (there are hundreds of footnotes), Jones builds a case for a new spirituality invading not only society but the church as well. This new spirituality is really not new at all, however; it is the revival of ancient Gnosticism. Gnosticism, which had its roots in the mystery religions (p. 64), was the first major heresy faced by the early church beyond the New Testament era. It has gained new life today because of the collapse of secular humanism and the emptiness of postmodern deconstruction (pp. 42-43). Something must fill this void and that something appears to be a casserole of Gnosticism, Eastern mysticism and stripped-down Christianity. The result is a new spirituality which bares no resemblance to biblical Christianity. As a matter of fact, Jones points out that in order to change civilizations built on the Bible, you must change the Bible (p.…

No Laughing Matter by Larry Thomas

This is a surprisingly good little book on the so-called “Laughing Revival,” especially in light of the fact that the author himself is a Pentecostal. While Thomas does not totally break free from the errors of the Pentecostal movement (he believes the sign gifts are still operative today) he nevertheless takes a strong biblical approach to the bizarre manifestations and claims being made in many circles today. You will find in No Laughing Matter a short history of revivals along with their link with today’s extreme Charismatic fringe, as well as with the Latter-Rain movement of the past. There are good appendixes on the subjects of being slain in the Spirit and identification of the “Jesus” with who people claim experiences. A major drawback to the book is that it lacks footnotes and documentation for many statements, quotes, and claims. This renders the book rather useless for research, although every…

Good Morning, Holy Spirit by Benny Hinn

Good Morning, Holy Spirit was the best selling Christian book in the world a few years ago, which says more than I care to know about the state of the so-called evangelical church today. This is a semi-autobiographical look at the life of Benny Hinn, the popular Word of Faith evangelist. Along the way Hinn propagates his theological views of the Christian life, especially as it relates to the Holy Spirit. There is far too much heresy found in this volume to index in a short review. Hinn teaches typical Vineyard style views concerning the charismatic gifts: tongues, prophecy, visions, healings, and miracles. He believes that the Holy Spirit can and will speak to us audibly if we will but meet the conditions, and will even show up in bodily form on occasion.

For Many Shall Come in My Name by Ray Yungen

Yungen has done vast research into what is commonly called the New Age movement—“The age of Aquarius, supposedly the Golden Age, when man becomes aware of his power and divinity” (p. 108). The New Age movement, which came to the surface of our awareness in the 1970s, is a fusing of Eastern and Western thinking. New Age thought teaches that everything that exists, seen or unseen, is made up of energy—tiny particles of vibrating energy, atoms, molecules, protons, etc. All is energy. That energy, they believe, is God, and therefore, all is God. They believe that since we are all part of this God-energy, then we, too, are God. God is not seen as a Being that dwells in heaven, but as the universe itself. According to one writer, “Simply put, God functions in you, through you, and as you” (p. 17) (emphasis his). In the early days of the…

Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff

Hanegraaff has done a great job exposing the “counterfeit revivalists” within the Christian church. He pulls no punches, names names (in case you miss the point), documents like crazy, and lets no one off the hook. Along the way you get a solid history lesson on all three “waves” of the Spirit this century (Pentecostal, charismatic, the Vineyard), and revivals of the past (demonstrating how they differ from so-called revival today). Much of the material deals with the outer fringes: the laughing revival, Benny Hinn, John Arnott, and Rodney Howard-Browne. But the more mainstream (Vineyard, John Wimber, Jack Deere) are steamrolled as well. If you are looking for a biblical exposition dealing with the subjects of spiritual gifts, revivals and the like, this is not your book. If you are looking for something that clearly refutes the extremism of today’s evangelicalism, enjoy.

Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels is considered one of the leading authorities in the world on Gnosticism. Her earlier work, The Gnostic Gospels has been a standard reference on the subject for over twenty five years. In Beyond Belief, Pagels personalizes her journal, detailing her Christian roots, followed by disappointment with Christianity and her resulting interest in the alternatives, especially Gnostic beliefs. The reader is given a number of valuable pieces of information in Beyond Belief. There is a brief history of the early church fathers such as Tertullian, Irenaeus and Athanaius doing battle with opposing teachings of the time. Some of the debate sounds highly similar to debates of our time. While not obnoxious about it, Pagels obviously believes that orthodoxy was created by men wishing to solidify and retain their power base. As a result, Gnostic “Christians” were forced to flee and their “holy books” destroyed. But apparently some Gnostic monks…

A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen

Ray Yungen has written a very valuable book exposing the encroachment of New Age mysticism upon the evangelical church. Through the porthole of “contemplative prayer” numerous Christian leaders (e.g. Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, etc.) are calling us back to the desert Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages for a deeper level of spirituality. These leaders seem unaware or unconcerned that the Catholic mystics drew deeply from the well of Eastern Mysticism. As a result, unsuspecting Christians are being served a casserole of Eastern Mysticism, occultism and mystical Christianity all under the guise of deeper spiritual living and prayer. Contemplative prayer is not biblical prayer, no matter how spiritual it may sound. Contemplative prayer, rather, is turning our minds off—putting it into neutral, in order to experience silence, at which point we somehow encounter God. All New Agers, occultist and Eastern Mystics teach this type of praying, along with…

A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

A New Earth is little more than the standard New Age (New Spirituality) fare which would be highly familiar to those having knowledge of this doctrine. What makes A New Earth unique is its adoption and promotion by Oprah Winfrey who has become perhaps the biggest cheerleader for New Age spirituality in modern times. Because of Oprah’s endorsement, millions of Eckhart Tolle’s books have been sold and New Age ideas have spread to a whole new segment of Western society. Tolle clearly states that the purpose of his book is “to bring about a shift in consciousness, that is to say, awaken” (pp. 5-6). “Awakening” is “a shift in consciousness in which thinking and awareness separate” (p. 259). Thoughts and beliefs are things to transcend (pp. 18, 21-22, 70, 91, 121, 186, 193, 276) as we escape our ego (identification with form, primarily thought forms) (p. 22), stand outside of…

Whatever Happened to Hell? by John Blanchard

Of all the books that I have read on the subject of hell, this one is easily the most readable. It is filled with quotes, anecdotes, and the like, which lends great interest; yet the reader is not shortchanged in the process. That is because Blanchard does not sidestep the hard questions and big issues wrapped around Hell. The author defends a conservative, biblical position against popular theories of universalism and annihilationism. He does however take a metaphorical view of the fire of Hell (pages 160-166), preferring to see Hell’s fires as the wrath and judgment of God. Overall, Whatever Happened to Hell? is an excellent contribution to the study of this important and serious issue.

What You Need to Know about Jesus in Twelve Lessons by Max Anders

This book is part of a larger ten part series called “What You Need to Know.” Other titles include subjects such as God, the Holy Spirit, the church and salvation. They can be read for personal enrichment or used as a study guide for a Bible study or Sunday school class, since each chapter includes helpful study and discussion questions at the end. This particular volume is well written, interesting and accurate. Some of the stories and applications offered are of limited value but can be quickly skimmed by those uninterested. The book shines in the doctrinal sections as Anders gives solid instruction on the subject of Christology. He also recommends supplemental reading for those wishing to pursue this subject further. My one complaint is that some of Anders’ heroes and quotes are taken from unbelievers and those espousing false doctrine. Why, I often wonder, do so many evangelical writers…

What Saint Paul Really Said by N. T. Wright

Wright is the most recognized popularizer of what is now termed the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). This is a theological perspective which clearly finds its roots in such doctrinal liberals as Albert Schweitzer and Rudolph Bultmann. Its formation, however, is owed to the writings of two other entrenched liberals, E. P. Sanders and James Dunn. This alone should raise numerous red flags in the mind of any serious student of the Word, for the devil’s children are not likely to offer God’s people a framework for truth. Great caution is in order, yet many in evangelical circles are clearly embracing many facets, and often the entire theory, behind the NPP. It is not uncommon today to hear former evangelical pastors and professors claiming that we have had the gospel wrong for two thousand years and are now finally enlightened by the NPP. This capitulation on the part of many…

What Love is This? by Dave Hunt

Hunt is a man who writes with passion and conviction. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, there is never a doubt that he is leading with his heart. That is not to say that his mind is not engaged, quite the contrary – there are few authors who do as much copious research as Hunt. This 400-page book is full of footnotes as Hunt draws from dozens of authors on all sides of the issue. The issue is an attack on Calvinism. In a personal conversation with Hunt he told me his book would make me a zero point Calvinist, and while it certainly did not do that Hunt does land some solid blows, especially in the areas of limited atonement and the extreme teachings of some regarding perseverance. This leads to one of the problems with this type of book, the subject is just too vast and…

What Is Reformed Theology? by R. C. Sproul

Who better to write a book on the basics of Reformed theology than its poster boy, R. C. Sproul. Surely no one living knows this subject better than Sproul. Add to this Sproul’s gift of communicating deep subjects in an understandable way and you have a winning combination. Sproul is not so much arguing for the Reformed position in this book as he is informing the reader exactly what the Reformed position is. To be sure he can’t help some arguing but mostly he sticks to his battle plan and simply teaches. The book is divided into two sections, the first being the Reformed foundational theology which rest upon five key doctrines: the centrality of God, sola scriptura, sola fide, devotion to Jesus Christ and commitment to Covenant theology. The second section concerns the so-called TULIP, or five points of Reformed theology’s soteriological teachings. Sproul rightly understands that the TULIP…

What Angels Wish They Knew by Alistair Begg

This is a fine book suitable for contemplation by the unbeliever as well as a refresher for the Christian dealing with the unbeliever. It is well written, understandable, and full of interesting stories and quotes (although I wished he had gone a little lighter on Shakespeare and Spurgeon). Begg attempts to engage the mind of the unsaved in the details of the gospel message. I believe he accomplishes his goal very well. What Angels Wish They Knew does not unnecessarily offend, but neither does it pull any punches when expressing the “Good News.” I would recommend this book for the seeking unbeliever or as a text for an evangelistic Bible study.

Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul N. Benware

Benware has provided, in this volume, a marvelous study of biblical prophecy from a pretribulational, dispensational perspective. He carefully discusses hermeneutics and various schools of prophetic thought (e.g. amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism, preterism). He analyzes these positions—both pro and con, and provides a dispensational framework which he believes best explains eschatological matters. And throughout, Benware, while clearly disagreeing with opposing views, takes an irenic approach. The book is filled with excellent charts, topical and scriptural indexes and helpful footnotes. in my opinion, this is the go-to book for those desiring to study and/or teach biblical prophecy from a dispensational position.

Turning to God by William Barclay

A Study of Conversion in the book of Acts and Today This is a welcomed little book on the subject of conversion. Barclay, a well known biblical scholar, traces the use and meaning of the word “conversion” throughout the New Testament, focusing most of his attention in the book of Acts. Along the way he discusses repentance, baptism and the application of all of these things to the church today. Excellent!

Toward an Old Testament Theology by Walter C. Kaiser

Thank the Lord for Bible scholars; those men who spend endless hours pouring over what every other scholar and pseudo-scholar in any known language for the last 2000 years has said about every sentence and word in Scripture. And thank the Lord that you “are not” one. Kaiser is a true scholar, and we are grateful for this volume that develops in depth the theology of the Old Testament. Surely the reader will at times weary of the constant references to the opinions of unknown, but apparently worthy, scholars of all ages. It is amazing at times how many ideas can be gleaned from what seems to the average Joe–Christian as a straightforward passage. It is equally amazing, after all the intellectual dust has settled, to discover how often Joe–Christian was right. When all is said and done, maybe the regular non-scholar type can understand the Bible, even if they…

Today’s Gospel, Authentic or Synthetic? by Walter Chantry

Long before John MacArthur started the “Lordship salvation” war men such as Chantry warned that the gospel message was being watered down by an easy believeism that gutted the gospel of its true message. Chantry declares that, “Differences between much of today’s preaching and that of Jesus are not petty; they are enormous. The chief errors are not in emphasis or approach but in the heart of the Gospel message.” Based on the account of the Rich Young Ruler, Chantry demonstrates that what passes for the gospel message today is not what Jesus was teaching. This little book (less than 100 pages long) is a must read for anyone trying to comprehend the Lordship battles. The author is obviously Reformed in doctrine, and as such, some will flinch at a few concepts, but overall this is an excellent study on the subject of the true gospel message and its illegitimate…

Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism by General Editor: Herbert W. Bateman IV

Dispensational theology has never been static. Today there are at least three discernable perspectives within the realm of dispensationalism: traditional (Scofield, Chafer), moderate or revised (Ryrie, Walvoord, Pentecost) and progressive (Bock, Blaising). While the perspectives differ on a number of important and minor details they all cling to the remaining sine qua non of dispensationalism—a clear and definite distinction between Israel and the church. This volume has been written by five Dallas Theological Seminary-related professors (four teach at DTS presently) for the purpose of discussing three key issues over which contemporary dispensationalists have some disagreement. The issues are hermeneutics, the biblical covenants, and the relationship between Israel and the church. The outstanding matter in the section on hermeneutics, debated by Elliott Johnson (moderate) and Darrell Bock (progressive), is how the Old Testament is to be understood in light of the New Testament. Traditional and moderate dispensationalists believe that the Old…

Those Invisible Spirits Called Angels by Renald Showers

This is an excellent book dealing with the general subject of angels from a biblical perspective. Showers discusses both holy and fallen angels, but does not mention the spiritual warfare movement. If you are interested in that subject you might want to turn to Overrun by Demons authored by Thomas Ice. While I found this volume sound and helpful Showers does give two questionable accounts of supposed angel experiences in modern times (e.g. pp.12-14). These types of incidents cannot be verified or documented. Whether they were angel encounters, or not, is complete conjecture and has no place in a work that is otherwise based upon Scripture. Other than these two illustrations I would heartily recommend this book.

There Really Is a Difference by Renald E. Showers

This volume is a solid comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology. Although the author strongly holds to dispensationalism, I believe he is fair in his depiction of the covenantal view. Showers lays out both positions, evaluates them, and comes down on the side of dispensationism. Along the way we are given an examination of the major Old Testament covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, Palestinian and New), discussions of the history and theological positions relative to the Millennium, and a good presentation of the dispensational understanding of Law and grace in the church age. Showers, along with many dispensationalists, believes that the church, while having no part in the physical aspects of the New Covenant, nevertheless participates in the spiritual benefits of that Covenant. I remain unconvinced, seeing the New Covenant as given to Israel and having nothing to do with the church. Dr. Showers is a professor and that fact is easily…

The Truth War by John MacArthur

The Truth War is a serious call to arms against false teachers that are infiltrating the church today. Based loosely on Jude 3-4, MacArthur demonstrates the vital importance and urgent need “to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” MacArthur believes the evangelical movement today is in deep trouble due to biblical illiteracy and a willingness to tolerate heresy. The antidote is to once again affirm the absolute centrality of the place of truth in our faith. Truth must not and can not be shoved aside as extra baggage. Rather than being trivialized it must again take center stage in the life of the church. In this volume rather than targeting a particular movement or concern the author takes a scatter-gun approach. He discusses the emergent church movement, John Armstrong’s theological flip-flop, the dangers of both modernity and postmodernity, ancient and current…

The Silent Shepherd by John MacArthur

The Silent Shepherd is not a systematic study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, although it does detail many of His attributes and ministries. The target audience appears to be laymen with limited knowledge of this subject. A study guide is included to walk students through a Bible study on the material. The Silent Shepherd is basically sound in its teaching on the Holy Spirit, although there is a curious blending of Reformed and dispensational theology. For example, while taking the dispensational approach of the distinct ministries of the Holy Spirit in the church age, MacArthur nevertheless maintains the standard Reformed view of three divisions of the Law. The civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law have been done away with, but not the moral. This is an indefensible position, supported by Reformed presupposition, not by the Scriptures, which never breaks the Law into three parts. Biblically, the Law…

The Problems of the Afterlife by Samuel Fisk

Fisk has written a short but solid study of the theology of Hell. He manages, in less than one hundred pages, to successfully combat some of the important challenges to the traditional view of hell including universalism, annihilation and attempts to distort the meaning of the words “eternal” and “destruction.” Fisk’s little book is thoroughly biblical, well researched and documented, filled with excellent quotes and supplies a good bibliography. Quite an order for such a small book.

The Potter’s Freedom by James R. White

Norman Geisler’s disturbing book, Chosen But Free (see our review) sent ripples of anger throughout the Reformed community, not so much for what it said, but for what it claimed to be. In that book, Geisler wants the reader to believe that he is a champion of a moderate form of Calvinism, labeling the usual Calvinistic understanding as “extreme Calvinism.” The problem, as anyone who knows the subject at all could attest, is that Geisler it not representing Calvinism at all, but rather four-point Arminianism. That is, he holds to eternal security but strongly rejects all the other doctrines of grace. Had Geisler owned up to his Arminianism and attempted to argue for his position, his book would have largely gone unnoticed. But when he claimed to be a Calvinist, a true Calvinist as opposed to the “extreme” variety, he stepped on some major toes. The Potter’s Freedom is a…

The Pocket Prophecy Series by Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy

Ice and Demy have teamed up to write numerous booklets on prophetic topics. The booklets written so far are: · The Truth About the Tribulation · The Truth About the Rapture · The Truth About the Millennium · The Truth About 2000 A.D. & Predicting Christ’s Return · The Truth About the Antichrist and His Kingdom · The Truth About the Last Days’ Temple All volumes are less than fifty pages long and are written from a dispensational perspective. Developed in a question and answer format, the authors answer most questions on the given subject, in a style that is easy to read. The booklets do not go into great detail (obviously) nor do they offer a defense against those who take other positions. I find these little volumes highly useful as a quick overview of eschatological issues.

The Plan of Salvation by Benjamin B. Warfield

The chapters of this book are devoted not to the discussion of soteriology in general but to “The Order of Decrees.” Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, takes a five-point Calvinistic, supralapsarian position. Along the way he deals with Pelagianism, Sacerdotalists, Arminians, Amyraldianism, Synergism and other lapsarian views. At issue is, “Whether the redemptive work of Christ actually saves those for whom it is wrought, or only opens a possibility of salvation to them” (p.24). In the chapter on Calvinism, Warfield allows others, such as those who deny limited atonement, to be in the Calvinist camp, but only as inconsistent brethren who “strike at the very heart of Calvinism” (p.94). This is not a nightstand book, but it is excellent even if one does not agree in all points with Warfield.

The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper

Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” has raised many controversies. The media has focused its attention on who was responsible for Jesus’ death, but Piper tackles the meatier question – “Why did Jesus suffer and die?” This little book gives 50 answers to that question in 50 two-page chapters. While abbreviated, Piper’s answers are not lightweight. There is substance here, solid Scripture support and much to prime the pump for further study. I would be in total agreement with almost all that is found in this volume, with few exceptions. Those exceptions include: • A questionable interpretation of Colossians 2:13 (pp 32-33). • The title of chapter 13; “To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation,” is problematic, since rituals have never been the basis for salvation. • A strange view of ancestral bondage (chapter 20). • Somehow twisting the meaning of Hebrews 11:25 into…

The Openness of God by Clark Pinnock and others

This is one of the most important books presenting the Open Theism point of view, which is designed to challenge the traditional understanding of God. Five different men deal with the biblical, historical, theological, philosophical and practical issues that swirl around this important debate. If there were any one book that would most clearly represent the concepts of Open Theology this would be it. I will not at this point critique the book or its depiction of God. This will be done in a future Think on These Things article. Suffice it to say that Open Theism is a heresy that is spreading in evangelical Christianity and needs to be clearly challenged.

The Law and the Saint by A. W. Pink

One of the most important differences separating the dispensational and Reformed approach to Scripture concerns the Old Testament Law. Neither school of thought teaches that the Law must be kept in order for a person to be saved, but once saved things change. The dispensationalist believes that the Christian is dead to the Law and released from the Law. But the Reformed understanding is that the church age believer is sanctified as he keeps the Law, just as the Old Testament believer. That is, the Law is the Christian’s rule of life. Pink’s little booklet represents clearly and succinctly the Reformed position. Pink labels those who believe the Law must be kept, as legalistic (he is correct). He labels those who believe that the Law has nothing whatever to do with believers – the dispensational position — as Antinomians (against law) (with this label we disagree). Those, of course, who…

The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges

The fear of the Lord, while a major topic in Scripture, is not a particularly popular theme among Christians today. For this reason alone this volume is a welcomed addition to our reading list and Bridges, who has spent a lifetime studying and writing about God, has much to offer on the subject. Bridges defines the fear of the Lord as the combination of three elements: “Respect (which toward God means reverence) in recognition of His infinite worth and dignity, admiration of His glorious attributes, and amazement at His infinite love” (p. 26). With this definition in mind Bridges spends four chapters portraying the majesty of God by tracing the greatness, holiness, wisdom and love of God in Scripture. The rest of the book deals with our response to this awesome God. The Joy of Fearing God is not a technical work and does not handle with detail the thorny…

The Healing Promise by Richard Mayhue

There is probably no more important and comprehensive book concerning the subject of divine healing than this one. Mayhue covers a lot of ground as he analyzes the ministries of faith healers such as Benny Hinn, conducts valuable interviews with John MacArthur and Joni Eareckson Tada as well as those who have been deceived, and carefully handles pertinent scriptural passages. This discussion of difficult sections from the Bible will be most appreciated by the serious Christian. Isaiah 53, James 5:13-18, 2 Corinthians 17:7-10, Galatians 3:5, Matthew 8:14-17 and 1 Peter 2:24 are among the Scriptures that Mayhue interprets correctly, giving the reader a better understanding of physical healing as God designed it. The Healing Promise is an excellent book which will answer many questions and give a biblical perspective on the subject of healing.

The Greatness of the Kingdom by Alva McClain

No more valuable book addressing the Kingdom of God, from a dispensational point of view, has ever been written than The Greatness of the Kingdom . What a joy to read a scholar who has wrestled carefully with such an important subject, and yet is able to communicate his insights in such an excellent manner. I cannot recommend this work too highly.

The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor

There is certainly much about The Great Work of the Gospel to commend. As the title indicates, Ensor is dealing with a great theme—the gospel—and he thoroughly explores its many facets. Along the way the author exposes and debunks a number of the faulty teachings relevant to the gospel which are popular today. I particularly like his comment on forgiveness: “Ask a hundred people if they want forgiveness, and a hundred people will say, ‘yeah, sure. And can I have fries with that, and a large Pepsi?’ They have no great sense of needing God’s forgiveness but believe it would not hurt to have it in their pocket just in case” (p. 32). Ensor demonstrates how therapeutic and man-centered most gospel presentations have become and calls the church back to a God-centered message as found in Scripture. He is not afraid to tackle thorny issues such as the tension between…

The Great Exchange by Philip H. Eveson

Everything that you ever wanted to know, and most likely more, about justification by faith alone is found in this volume. Eveson deals with the teachings of Scripture, develops a biblical definition for justification, and defends this definition against both ancient and present challenges. He seems to have two major concerns. The first is a new understanding of the doctrine of justification espoused by Dr. N. T. Wright that literally turns the whole New Testament on its ear. The other concern is the recent coziness between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. The Great Exchange deals with both of these issues well. This is not a book for everyone. While it contains some solid teachings and a good defense of the biblical doctrine of justification, it will hold the interest only of those who are for some reason immersed in this debate.

The God Who Justifies by James R. White

In a time when the doctrine of justification is under attack from many sides, James White has given the church a valuable resource. This almost 400 page book is divided into two main sections: a theological study and defense of the doctrine of justification as defined by the Reformation, and an exegetical study and defense of the key passages in the New Testament pertinent to this subject. The second section is a solid inspection of large portions of the epistles of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, James and other important passages dealing with justification. The God Who Justifies is not for the casual reader, but for the serious student of the Scriptures it is a welcomed addition especially in light of the recent push toward the de-protestantization of Protestantism.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is on the forefront of what is being termed the “new atheism.” What separates “old” atheism from this new variety is the evangelistic fervor with which its proponents are seeking converts. No longer content to merely defend their atheistic views, Dawkins and company are aggressively attacking theists, ridiculing their position and recruiting followers for their cause. Dawkins openly states, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down” (p. 5). In order to win followers Dawkins attempts to show that theistic arguments are preposterous and that theists are stupid. Substituting for God in Dawkins’ system is “natural selection” which he tries in vain to distinguish from chance and just plain luck. Lacking real evidence, most of The God Delusion becomes a rant that would make any fundamentalist (who Dawkins can’t stand) proud. His strategy seems to be, “If…